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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Debate Flares Over Vaccines and Autism

Activist Groups Spar With CDC Over Claims of Link Between Autism and Thimerosal
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Allegations of Bias continued...

Thirty-four pages later in the transcript, McCormick states, "...we are not ever going to come down that [autism] is a true side effect."

Manning said the transcript shows that the CDC "directed that committee to find what they wanted to find, which was no causation" between vaccines and autism.

In an interview, McCormick confirmed that the statements in the transcript are "accurate and true." But she said there was "no truth" to allegations that CDC officials influenced the IOM or that the committee reached conclusions before its scientific review.

McCormick said her comments reflected a debate over whether the committee would look at vaccine effects in individuals or across populations, and not what any specific findings would be.

The conversation also took place in late 2001, before the committee's final 2004 report on vaccines and autism was planned, McCormick said.

"In 2001 we did not know we were going to look at autism again. To use those as evidence for what we did in 2004 is really inappropriate," she said.

McCormick added that the committee's experts were chosen specifically for their scientific independence and for a lack of ties to both pharmaceutical manufacturers and the CDC.

CDC Perspective

Parents groups alleged that CDC officials had worked to dissuade agency scientists from looking more deeply into links between thimerosal and autism.

The groups also alleged that CDC officials narrowed the scope of the IOM's report to include a handful of studies, most of which the agency had a role in funding or planning. Those studies generally showed little evidence of a link between vaccination and autism.

Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman, said the agency has been "very transparent" about its ongoing studies of autism and vaccines and that the emails have been taken "out of context." He said the agency closely guards its scientific credibility and "in no way" tried to influence IOM experts.

"We stand behind our science that's been done to this date and we will certainly do more in the future," he said.

Louis Z. Cooper, MD, an emeritus professor of pediatrics at Columbia University and a founder of the National Network for Immunization Information, said in an interview that some of the emails and transcripts "cause some anxiety" because they may help fuel fear among parents about the safety of vaccines and the motivations of health officials.

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