On Thursday this week, there was almost no press in the hearing room at Chairman Darrell Issa's House Government Reform Committee. Had it been a hearing on Benghazi – or something more appealing to my fellow members of the Fourth Estate – it would have been hard, if not impossible, to get a seat at the press table. This was not one of those sexy hearings; it was a hearing on Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.
It doesn't matter that on the same dais Reps. Dan Burton and Dennis Kucinich were getting along famously or that Rep. Dan Burton was proclaiming that he didn't dislike vaccines, he just dislikes that they have so much mercury in them. It did not matter that Kucinich brought up the toxins in coal as a possible suspect. It did not matter that there was a petition on the Internet to get CBS to cover the hearings, the big press and the big cameras were not there. No one cared that there was really bipartisan cooperation, that polar opposites were getting along and that this issue has broader implications than Benghazi.
Autism is not sexy to the press, so it is left by the wayside. The fact that it has increased by 1,000 percent in 40 years barely got a blip in the printed or online press.
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It is true that the New York Times devoted considerable space to a Sunday magazine article on autism and the unique employment opportunities that the disorder affords. That is wonderful, but why are we seeing such an uptick in ASD? Is it better diagnosis, or is it genetic, environment or vaccine related? Those are important questions. Autism is expensive for our society and a major stressor on the individual who has it and the families caring for them.
Our reporter, Amy Walker, followed the debate quite carefully. She wrote:
In 2006, Congress authorized $850 million to the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to battle autism, but most of that was used to research an autism gene.
According to National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities Director Dr. Colleen Boyle, studies were conducted to help magnify factors that are putting children at risk, which include genetics.
"NIH spent most of that money on the great autism gene hunt while blackballing environmental researchers and defying parent concerns," added SafeMinds Board Member Mark Blaxill. "American families deserve better."
Looking closer, Issa asked, "Was there autism before vaccines?"
The panelists, Boyle and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and NIH Director Dr. Alan Guttmacher, agreed that autism likely existed before vaccines were created to treat the disorder.
"It probably had existed before, but no one noticed the pattern," Guttmacher said.
But according to John Hopkins professor Leo Kanner in 1935, the rate of autism in children was zero prior to 1930. Then in 1930, Thimerosal, a mercury containing preservative, was used in some vaccines.
Today, children could receive close to 9 shots in one visit to the doctor's office.
In July 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers concurred Thimerosal should be eliminated, or at least reduced in vaccines.
However, in 2000 one in 88 children born, in some states higher, reported a diagnosis of autism.
"Federal agencies responsible for the health of the nation's children have failed their duty," Blaxill said.
The panelist members urged for new heads to take over the CDC and NIH, those who would look into environmental research for the cure to autism, a violently uprising illness that have cost families entirely too much.
According to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), the total amount to care for an autistic child can cost $3.2 million over a course of a lifetime, often out-of-pocket, $60,000 a year.
"One of the most important priorities is that we work with you and help you on this important issue," Issa said.
Everyone in Washington knows that when Chairman Issa says something controversial about the Democrats the press covers it like there is no other story. However, when it is a bipartisan health issue, no one cares. It just isn't an something that causes right-left controversy, so no one pays attention.
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I hold freedom of the press dear to my heart, but at times like these where there is virtually no coverage for something so important, I think "there ought to be a law."