Eli Stone stirs vaccine furor

January 31, 2008 5:30:05 PM PST
He sees George Michael in his living room, and that's not all. But television's newest lawyer has also sparked an autism controversy.

In the premiere episode of "Eli Stone," the title character, a lawyer, takes on, and wins, a case charging that a vaccine caused a child's autism.

It's been a hot debate for years - has the preservative thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, which was in virtually all vaccines until 2001, led to the rising number of children diagnosed as autistic?

Amy Carson, a mother who lives near Asheville, North Carolina, is a believer.

She says, "I am thoroughly convinced 100% that my child became autistic because of his vaccinations."

However, ABC News Medical Contributor Dr. Marie Savard says NO, that recent studies show that 90% of autism cases are due to a glitch in the genes.

Dr. Marie Savard, an internist in Wynnewood, notes, "That has been well-studied, and there is absolutely no evidence that mercury is in any way related to autism."

Dr. Savard says vaccines have played a vital role in saving young lives, calling them "probably one of the most important public health interventions in the last century." She adds, "90 per cent of infant death, child death, has been prevented from vaccinations." The Academy of Pediatrics is so angered by the episode, it has demanded that ABC cancel tonight's episode, saying that "a show that perpetuates the myth that vaccines cause autism is the height of reckless irresponsibility." The doctor's group fears the show will encourage parents to skip vaccinations. Thomas and Carol Gallagher, whose Somers Point, New Jersey, law firm has represented vaccine injury cases for nearly 20 years, say vaccine injuries are rare, but they do believe some people are vulnerable. As a former teacher, Carol wonders why the autism diagnosis has climbed so much in the past 20 years. She thinks back, "I taught first grade for 9, and then 5th grade for 5, and I never taught one student who was autistic. So something has changed." Thomas Gallagher says efforts to stop the episode smack of a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech. He thinks the controversy is healthy, "It may serve serve as an educational tool, and the people may become much more aware of the vaccinations." The Gallaghers says the U.S. Court of Federal Claims may soon set the legal standard, when it decides which of 9 proposed test cases on vaccine injuries will go forward. In one of those cases, the child in question had 75 micrograms of mercury in her body by the age of 4 months. The Environmental Protection Agency says children should have no more than .1 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. Several parents told us they won't give up immunizations, but they do want more assurance the benefits outweigh the risks. Sheryl Guttman of center city says, "With her shots, I'm always so nervous - should I space them out, should I not?" Lindsey Pockers, of Wynnewood, says, "I am worried there might be a link, but if my doctor tells me my kid needs a vaccine, then I'm going to go ahead with it."