The statement has created much buzz in the blogosphere because it taps into a raging controversy in the autism community about the causes of autism spectrum disorders and whether thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative that is used in some vaccines, and used to be more widely used in routine shots very young children get, is a factor. While there are passionate advocates who believe there's evidence for this, there have also been a number of scientific studies published in recent years which have failed to establish this link, including a study published in January (see: California Study: Autism Cases Rise In Spite of Vaccine Changes).
McCain's statement came in response to a question at a forum Feb. 29 in the days before the Texas primary, according to the ABC News Political Punch blog. Here's a snippet from the coverage:
At a town hall meeting Friday in Texas, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declared that "there’s strong evidence" that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S. -- a position in stark contrast with the view of the medical establishment.
McCain was responding to a question from the mother of a boy with autism, who asked about a recent story that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had issued a judgment in favor of an unnamed child whose family claimed regressive encephalopathy and symptoms of autism were caused by thimerosal.
"We’ve been waiting for years for kind of a responsible answer to this question, and are hoping that you can help us out there," the woman said.
McCain said, per ABC News' Bret Hovell, that "It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines."
McCain said there’s "divided scientific opinion" on the matter, with "many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it."
The ABC News article goes on to cite a number of studies and statements from the medical establishment refuting McCain's view.
There is great interest among parents and families of people with autism spectrum disorders in this election year, and for good reason: the next president will have an influence over federal research dollars devoted to autism research; what kind of approach the Department of Education (and its experts on special education) will pursue in administering special education laws; how much federal aid to devote to education; what kinds of actions to take (or not take) in addressing the needs of disabled Americans; what kinds of judges to appoint to make decisions in cases involving disabled citizens including those with autism; and more (like whether to make autism an issue at all).
It's no wonder that more than half of Autism Bulletin readers who have voted in an unscientific poll cite "autism services" as a key issue in their vote. (See, Where Do Autism Services Fit Into Your Views on the Presidential Race?)
So McCain's views are interesting on this issue, and have raised hackles in the scientific community, as this post from The Chronicle of Higher Education indicates.
So far, this is McCain's only statement so far relating to auitsm during the campaign. A search on the McCain for President website using the word "autism" turns up a blank.
If you know of more statements by John McCain relating to autism, that involve more than the vaccine issue, please post a comment here.
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