Autism and vaccines registered a minor blip on the national news radar screen over the weekend after Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s presumptive nominee for the fall Presidential contest, said that autism might be caused by thimerosal. To those who know better McCain’s comment seems outdated, as if he had warned of a missile gap with the USSR.
Jack Tapper, ABC’s national correspondent, wrote about McCain’s disconnectedness from science:
At a town hall meeting Friday in Texas, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declared that “there’s strong evidence” that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S. – a position in stark contrast with the view of the medical establishment.
McCain was responding to a question from the mother of a boy with autism, who asked about a recent story that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had issued a judgment in favor of an unnamed child whose family claimed regressive encephalopathy and symptoms of autism were caused by thimerosal.
“We’ve been waiting for years for kind of a responsible answer to this question, and are hoping that you can help us out there,” the woman said.
McCain said, per ABC News’ Bret Hovell, that “It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”
McCain said there’s “divided scientific opinion” on the matter, with “many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it.”
McCain’s remark will be ignored by those 99 percent of voters who don’t have a dog in the autism hunt. But to the one-tenth of one-percent of voters – and it’s probably much less – who believe against all evidence that vaccines cause autism, Sen. Straight Talk’s comment sounds like angels singing on high, and it will produce votes.
But to the rest of us, those 99.9 percent of voters who either know better or don’t care, McCain’s words are reason for concern about the candidate himself. Do we really want a President who cannot analyze scientific evidence, or who won’t turn to experts for answers to technical questions? If McCain understands the issues better than he lets on, and was only pandering for votes, then he’s still showing an appalling lack of judgment by stirring up unwarranted fears about something as crucial to public health as the vaccine program.