If media accounts about Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are correct, then I am pleased to be the first to report that my new Senator is a supporter of research into possible connections between vaccines and autism.
The presumptive Senator, a moderate Democrat from the Hudson Valley, is sure to join the growing chorus of voices in the US Senate -- and well beyond -- in calling for more Federal funding for scientific studies into vaccines and autism, including Senators Kennedy, Dodd, McCain, Lieberman and Enzi, among others, and former Senators Clinton and Obama.
In the 110th Congress, Representative Gillibrand was one of 22 Co-Sponsors of H. R. 2832, the "Comprehensive Comparative Study of Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Populations Act of 2007." This bill would direct the Secretary of HHS "to conduct or support a comprehensive study comparing total health outcomes, including risk of autism, in vaccinated populations in the United States with such outcomes in unvaccinated populations in the United States."
Ms. Gillibrand could hardly be labeled as "anti-vaccine" -- nor could the bill that she cosponsored, which was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), another short-list contender to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat.
"Securing the health of the Nation's children is our most important concern as parents and stewards of the Nation's future," the text of the bill says. "The Nation's vaccine program has greatly reduced human suffering from infectious disease by preventing and reducing the outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases. Childhood immunizations are an important tool in the pursuit of childhood health."
But, the bill notes, "The number of immunizations administered to infants, pregnant women, children, teenagers, and adults has grown dramatically over recent years. The incidence of chronic, unexplained diseases such as autism, learning disabilities, and other neurological disorders appears to have increased dramatically in recent years."
And, it states: "Individual vaccines are tested for safety, but little safety testing has been conducted for interaction effects of multiple vaccines. The strategy of aggressive, early childhood immunization against a large number of infectious diseases has never been tested in its entirety against alternative strategies, either for safety or for total health outcomes."
The text of the bill reasonably concludes: "Public confidence in the management of public health can only be maintained if these State government-mandated, mass vaccination programs -- (A) are tested rigorously and in their entirety against all reasonable safety concerns; and (B) are verified in their entirety to produce superior health outcomes."
It goes on to note that there are "numerous" US populations "in which a practice of no vaccination is followed and which therefore provide a natural comparison group for comparing total health outcomes. No comparative study of such health outcomes has ever been conducted."
"Given rising concern over the high rates of childhood neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, the need for such (vaccine) studies is becoming urgent."
In addition to this, Rep. Gillibrand sent a staff person to attend a vaccine-autism briefing I spoke at on Capitol Hill in September, sponsored by Rep. Maloney. Despite the fact that it happened on the same day that the American economy was melting down (the day that John McCain temporarily suspended his Presidential bid), over 90 members of the House and Senate made sure that they had representatives at the briefing.
So there you are. Few things are more mainstream than a Senate seat from New York. Kristen Gillibrand is a decidedly mainstream politician who supports vaccine autism research. And she is in good company. Research into vaccines and autism and other neurological disorders has recently been supported by many, many illustrious institutions and individuals. But more on that very soon.
For now, suffice it so say that the as-yet unconfirmed appointment of Senator Gillibrand of New York marks a victory for those who support more Federal funding for vaccine-autism research.
For those who disagree, I suggest you take it up with the Senator.