03/01/2008 01:10 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Senator McCain: "Strong Evidence" of Autism-Vaccine Link

Dear Senator McCain,

It was with some amazement that I read about your comments, made tonight while campaigning in Texas, about a possible link between mercury in vaccines and autism.

According to Jake Tapper at ABC News, a Texas mother of a child with autism asked you about the Federal Court document, first reported on Huffington Post last Monday, in which Justice Department officials conceded that vaccines had aggravated one child's underlying medical condition, resulting in a diagnosis of autism.

Your courage -- some would (and will) call it lunacy, or at best political suicide -- to step into this quagmire, while running for President, no less, is an inspiration and comfort to those of us who continue to ask such discomfiting questions in the public realm.

It's not the nicest place to be, but welcome to our world anyway. Given your war record, you are much better prepared than anyone I can think of for the incoming missiles of vitriol that are about to come your way.

"Why are you trying to scare parents away from vaccinating their kids?" some will demand. "Don't you know that children will get sick and die, because of your reckless questioning?" others will say. "Are you really so stupid that you believe this issue hasn't been put to rest by the best science money can buy? Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?"

Oh that's right: War Hero. U.S. Senator. De Facto Presidential Nominee.

Well, Senator, if you are unafraid to ask the tough, unpopular, and, yes (gasp!) controversial questions about what you aptly call the "indisputable" increase in autism cases - and to be so bold as to suggest that "there's strong evidence that indicates that it's got to do with a preservative in vaccines" -- then no one in America, least of all journalists, should fear asking the same questions.

In the meantime, get ready for a whole new sub-species of infantile sloganeering that will be heaped upon you with tedious repetition.

You, Senator, like it or not, are now a card-carrying member of the "Mercury Militia." You are a tin-foil hatter, a "denialist dead-ender," and an "anti-science" nut job grasping at emotional, litigious straws.

You, Senator, in the raw vernacular of your newfound enemies, are one of those awful, ragtag "anti-vaxers" who just want to see kids get sick from preventable diseases and die.

Yet, when you raise questions in the US Senate about aviation safety, no one angrily labels you "anti-airplane," do they?

Inquire about reducing highway accident rates? Nobody runs around calling you "anti-car."

But raise a question about the Federal Government conceding a vaccine-autism case; or ask why more and more studies from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of California and elsewhere continue to show a potential link between mercury (from the environment and, yes, from vaccines) and autism, or even call attention to the fact that autism is epidemic (and thus not purely genetic), and suddenly it's battle stations: Prepare to fend off the overheated wrath of indignant health officials and their blogger allies, who, to be honest, aren't always that adept at turning an original phrase against their foes.

Sir, I only hope that your Democratic opponent will be equally unafraid to address these admittedly thorny issues up front and honestly. (My sources tell me that one indeed will. The other one, not so much).

Whoever wins the White House, let's pray that he or she gets to the bottom of this national emergency while funding vital new treatment research on a Manhattan Project scale. And let's hope their Administration is remembered for presiding over the waning days of the Great American Autism Epidemic.


PS: Senator McCain's statements did not happen in a vacuum. Many parents, especially members of A-CHAMP (Advocates for Children's Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning), met with McCain last year, prompting this letter sent by McCain and Joe Lieberman to Ted Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committe, asking for hearings on the cause and treatment of autism spectrum disorder.

"We have heard the concerns of many Americans," they wrote, "that a number of environmental exposures, such as thimerosal, pesticides, metals, organic pollutants and other ambient factors may be linked to autism."

I am not aware of any response from Senator Kennedy's office, but will try to get one and post it ASAP in this space. - DK