FACT CHECK: Did Egyptian Scientists Find That Vaccines Cause Autism?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

A video that received almost 8 million views on Facebook claimed that the mercury in vaccines causes autism.

“Egyptian study confirms, autism is caused by mercury in vaccines,” read the captioned video.

Verdict: False

The study says nothing about the link between vaccines and autism, and most mercury has either been removed or was never present in children’s vaccines.

Fact Check:

The video was posted by Natural News, a website that actively promotes the idea that vaccines cause autism.

The website’s founder Mike Adams believes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have engaged in a conspiratorial cover up and that vaccine makers, which he calls “medical child molesters,” are responsible for murder.

“The ‘Vaccine Holocaust,’ as it is sometimes called, is a deliberate and widespread assault on children using chemical violence,” Adams wrote in a post from 2017.

The Facebook video alleged that a study conducted by Egyptian scientists reveals the truth. “A team of Egyptian scientists have confirmed that one in every 50 American children have metabolic brain disease due to the mercury found in vaccines,” read the caption.

Except the Egyptian study did not investigate whether there’s a connection between vaccines and autism.

After an inquiry by The Daily Caller News Foundation, Natural News took down the video and issued a correction on a related article. “After an internal review of this article, we have determined the author reached an unjustified conclusion about the Egyptian study,” reads an editor’s note.

Some – but not all – vaccines used to contain a preservative called thimerosal that prevented the risk of bacterial contamination. Thimerosal is about 50 percent mercury by weight.

But the U.S. eliminated the compound from most vaccines by 2001. The amount of thimerosal in vaccines received by six months of age was 188 micrograms (mcg) in the past, but has since dropped to 3 mcg.

Today, the flu vaccine (for children six months and older) is the only one that contains thimerosal in the U.S., but it too is available in a thimerosal-free version. “All vaccines routinely recommended for children 6 years of age and younger in the U.S. are available in formulations that do not contain thimerosal,” reads the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.

As a result, when Natural News warns of the risk of mercury in vaccines, any theoretical concerns that may have existed over a decade ago are now largely outdated.

The U.S. began removing thimerosal after several studies suggested that the mercury in fish consumed by pregnant mothers could lead to neurological and developmental disorders in children, even at low doses.

“Chronic, low-dose prenatal MeHg exposure from maternal consumption of fish has been associated with more subtle end points of neurotoxicity in children,” said a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences. “Those end points include poor performance on neurobehavioral tests, particularly on tests of attention, fine-motor function, language, visual-spatial abilities (e.g., drawing), and verbal memory.”

It was calculated that depending upon the vaccine formulation, immunization schedule and weight of the child, some infants under six months of age could be receiving more mercury from vaccines than the amount considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There wasn’t enough research at the time to determine whether an association between the compound and autism existed or not, so thimerosal was removed as a precautionary measure.

Subsequent research has failed to establish a link between thimerosal and autism.

A number of population-based studies have been conducted in places like the United KingdomDenmark, Japan and California. These studies did not find a causal relationship between vaccines and the incidence of autism.

Lab studies have also failed to establish an association.

“The question of whether vaccines or vaccine components cause autism is one that can – and has – been answered by science,” Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, told TheDCNF. “Despite concerns, numerous studies have shown that there is no link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t published research out there that draws a link. But the research is outside the mainstream consensus of researchers and pediatricians and should be treated with skepticism.

Many of the articles that have established a link are co-authored by Mark Geier and David Geier, a father-son pair who have been embroiled in controversy. Mark Geier had his medical licenses revoked in 2011, and his son was charged with practicing medicine without a medical license that year as well.

When the Institute of Medicine was reviewing the scientific literature back in 2004 to assess whether a link existed, it excluded their papers, calling their methodology seriously flawed and non-transparent.

Similar literature reviews have come to the same conclusion. “Epidemiologic studies that support a link demonstrated significant design flaws that invalidate their conclusions,” read a 2004 review published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

Many parents worry that autism may be associated with vaccines because some are administered around the time a child starts to show diagnosable signs of autism at roughly 18 months of age.

But many experts believe that autism develops far earlier. “Autism is clearly a progression that begins after conception, in early pregnancy, but doesn’t fully manifest until one to two years of age,” Dr. Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, told TheDCNF.

Hotez pointed us to a new study that shows that neuro-imaging technology can detect with 96 percent accuracy whether a six-month-old will later be diagnosed with autism.

Certain genes appear to predispose children to autism, although environmental factors may also be at play.

Studies have shown that heavy metals like lead, aluminum and mercury could be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism, although more research needs to be conducted on this front. Mineral deficiencies of zinc and manganese during pregnancy may also be a risk factor.

The findings of one study “suggest that differences in early-life exposure to metals, or more importantly how a child’s body processes them, may affect the risk of autism,” says a recent press release by the National Institutes of Health.

Mercury is a neurotoxin, and the EPA recommends that young children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers minimize their mercury consumption.

But that doesn’t mean the type of mercury found in vaccines, a form known as ethylmercury, is comparable to methylmercury, the type present in some fish.

It has been suggested that ethylmercury may have similar toxicity to methylmercury, but there’s good reason to believe that ethylmercury is less readily absorbed by the body and removed more quickly from the blood stream.

“In case reports of accidental high-dose exposures in humans to thimerosal or ethyl mercury toxicity was demonstrated only at exposures that were 100 or 1000 times that found in vaccines,” reads the FDA website.

The study cited by Natural News found an association between a biomarker for mercury and the severity of autism, but it did not specifically investigate ethylmercury.

Clinicians say that the dose of thimerosal in vaccines must also be considered in the context of how much mercury is ordinarily consumed naturally. A common comparison among doctors is that a vaccine contains the same amount of mercury as a tuna fish sandwich.

Clinicians are also quick to point out how the rate of autism continues to rise despite the removal of thimerosal from nearly all vaccines in the U.S.

They emphasize the importance of vaccines in preventing outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps and rubella. “Vaccination continues to be a safe and effective way to prevent serious disease, particularly among children,” said O’Leary.

The last major outbreak of rubella, for example, was in 1964. “An estimated 12.5 million people got rubella, 11,000 pregnant women lost their babies, 2,100 newborns died, and 20,000 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome,” reads the CDC website.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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