Top Republicans -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., -- recently sold the future of our children
to Big Pharma for a paltry $4 bucks a pop.
That's the additional cost to produce a safe vaccine, a vaccine minus the mercury-based
preservative thimerosal. Mercury is a deadly neurotoxin that has long been known
to cause serious learning disabilities and death, and is strongly suspected
in contributing to autism. According to the California Public Schools Autism
Prevalence Report for the School Years 1992-2003, the increase in autism prevalence
is systemic across the entire United States "and should be an urgent public-health
concern ... The disease frequency of autism now surpasses that of all types
of cancer combined." The report notes a 1,086 percent cumulative growth
rate of autism over the period, with a 23 percent average annual growth rate.
A recent study published in the spring 2006 volume of the peer-reviewed Journal
of American Physicians and Surgeons shows that the rate of neurodevelopmental
disorders in children has decreased following the removal of thimerosal from
most American childhood vaccines. However, only about one-third of the 11 million
children vaccinated for influenza this year will receive mercury-free vaccines.
At the end of last year, President Bush signed the Public Readiness and Emergency
Preparedness Act (PREPA), granting blanket immunity to pharmaceutical companies
for vaccine-induced injuries. The measure is a carte blanche for industry, allowing
it even to reintroduce mercury in vaccines that are clean, and under the behest
of the World Health Organization, to continue shipping tainted vaccine to the
The federal government has known enough to stop the use of mercury in vaccines
for more than a decade. Industry has known of the dangers of thimerosal since
at least 1991.
But using the preservative made the sale of vaccines more profitable. In fact,
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has at times seemed just as concerned
about these profits as the companies themselves. Cynics have noted the "revolving
door" between industry and government that seems to alter the perspective
of both. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended
"the elimination of thimerosal as soon as possible." In 2002, the
CDC stated in a press release "all vaccines will be thimerosal-free as
soon as adequate supplies are available." Yet, last year the CDC refused
to live up to its own policy by claiming "no preference for thimerosal-free
Laden with millions in campaign contributions from the industry, some members
of Congress are eager to plead that Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth, and Eli Lilly
might have to close up shop if they were forced to take responsibility for injuries
caused by their products. These companies hardly need the help. Pharmaceuticals,
despite their whining about risk and R&D costs, are some of the most profitable
businesses in the country with the median profit margin of the top 10 companies
more than five times that of all other industries on the Fortune 500 list.
In order to secure passage of the PREPA, Sens. Frist and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska,
joined by Speaker Hastert, assured their colleagues in the House-Senate conference
committee that immunity for the drug companies would not go forward as a tack-on
to the 2006 defense appropriations bill. There were no public hearings on the
immunity provision, no debate, no disclosure of the proceedings of the committee.
Press coverage was virtually nonexistent. According to one prominent member
of the committee, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., "That legislation was unilaterally
and arrogantly inserted into the bill after the conference was over in a blatantly
abusive power play by two of the most powerful men in Congress." Sen. Ted
Kennedy, D-Mass., called the legislation "a blank check for the industry."
Sen. Robert Byrd, D- W. Va., dean of Senate rules, opined: "There should
be no dispute. The processes leading to passage of this bill [was] an absolute
The PREPA is unconstitutional. It removes the right to due process and judicial
review for persons injured by vaccines, thus granting a virtual license to kill.
Under the new law, companies making vaccines can be grossly negligent and act
with wanton recklessness and still escape liability as long as they can show
that their misconduct wasn't "willful." It is impossible to conceive
of a lower standard for the drug companies or a higher burden of proof for injured
The refusal of the drug companies to take responsibility for the products they
produce, and the complicity of the highest levels of government in their refusal,
will diminish public confidence in the entire U.S. vaccination program. Already,
thousands of mothers, including our own daughters, are fearful of having their
infants and toddlers vaccinated.
The PREPA also pre-empts the laws of states, including California, which have
passed legislation outlawing mercury in childhood vaccinations. Meanwhile, the
CDC continues to send its officials into state legislatures around the country
in attempts to abort measures banning mercury.
It's worth considering why the drug companies feel they need such treatment.
Is it because they have known for decades that their product is harmful? As
we learned with Big Tobacco, denial is the first defense. Eventually, the truth
will come out about mercury and the depravity of injecting a neurotoxin into
the bodies of infants and toddlers.
Lewis Seiler is president of Voice of the Environment.
Dan Hamburg, a former U.S. representative, is executive director.