Nassau County Legislator Dave Mejias (D-Farmingdale), chairman of the Legislature's Health & Social Services Committee, was joined April 28 by New York State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) as they provided a platform for parents of autistic children from across the United States to discuss their concerns about immunizations containing thimerosal, a vaccine preservative, and the possible link to autism. Mejias and health committee members heard from advocates, parents and experts on the issue of vaccinations containing thimerosal and what role local government can play in finding some answers and providing support.
"As chairman of the health committee it is my responsibility to hear the concerns of parents of autistic children and their fear that vaccination may have been the cause of their child's condition," Mejias said. "There is no known cause for autism, but we can't rule anything out. If there is a risk to the safety and well-being of the children of this county, we must take action."
Research indicates a possible link between autism and vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal, according to Autism United. Nassau County-run hospitals and health clinics have not used vaccines containing thimerosal since 2006.
"We are grateful that Legislator Mejias understands the value of this issue and the role our local governments play, "said John Gilmore, executive director of Autism United. "Public discussions like these are crucial in finding the answers we need and as a parent of an autistic child, this is an important step in obtaining justice for our children."
Recently, a federal court ruled in favor of Hannah Polling, a 9-year-old girl who began exhibiting autism symptoms immediately after receiving immunizations. Some immunizations given in the United States, particularly the influenza shot, still contain thimerosal. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning 10 years ago that the preservative needed to be removed from vaccines. Mercury is a highly toxic substance that can cause damage to the nerve and brain tissues and is especially harmful to children who are still developing.
Weisenberg sponsored and passed legislation last year banning thimerosal in vaccinations for pregnant women and children under the age of 3. That law goes into effect July 1, 2008.
Data on the number of children affected by autism varies. However most estimates state there are approximately 560,000 children with the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the United States. In New York State, there has been a nearly 700 percent increase since 1992. There are estimates that put the number of children affected as 1 in 150.
According to Gilmore, families of autistic children frequently cite the need for better access to education and health services, and the need for long-term assistance for individuals with more severe forms of ASD. For those children with ASD who are aging-out of the school setting, there is a vacuum of services and an increased need for government policies that will provide long-term care.
Autism United, conducted a cost analysis of lifetime residential care for just one child with autism and found that over a child's lifetime, in a long-term residential care facility, the cost would run $3 to $5 million. Cost estimates here on Long Island are about $15 million.
Children do not "outgrow" autism, however studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. Spotting the early signs of ASD and receiving proper treatment for the disorder can greatly improve an autistic child's future, Gilmore said.
For more information about autism visit www.autismunited.org or call 933-4050.