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January 2008

Thimerosal Disappears but Autism Remains

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2008 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2008

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(1):15-16. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2007.2

Since autism was described in the 1940s, multiple unfounded theories of causation and corollary “treatments” have been offered. Psychiatry, then a psychoanalytically oriented discipline, posited a psychosocial explanation that blamed “refrigerator” mothers for the child's withdrawal into the autistic bubble, only to be reached by the interpretations of therapists engaged in long-term play therapy. To name only a few more recent such theories taken from both the psychosocial and biological realm of explanations, facilitated communication and secretin infusion enjoyed widespread support up to the point when the systematic accumulation of carefully controlled clinical trials consistently failed to provide support for their efficacy.1,2 In the last decade, 2 hypotheses on autism-immunization links were raised that have had a profound impact in the field of autism research and practice and on public health at large. One incriminated the measles component of the triple measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine,3 the other the amount of thimerosal (about 50% of which is ethylmercury) contained in most other childhood vaccines.4 The 2 hypotheses are separate, since MMR vaccines never contained thimerosal. Both hypotheses relied on the claim of an autism “epidemic” that apparently coincided with the introduction of MMR and/or the increased exposure to ethylmercury due to the increased number of recommended childhood immunizations in the first 3 years of life.