In a governor’s race looking for candidate differences, it is worth revisiting the melodrama that took place in 2005 in the Senate Health Committee, where DFL Senator Steve Kelley shot down a mercury bill authored by Senator Becky Lourey. Concerned that the much ballyhooed flu shot, which still contains 25 micrograms of mercury, Mercury Free Minnesota—a coalition of over a dozen of Minnesota’s activist environmental and health groups—backed a bill to curtail the use of mercury in vaccines. An assortment of all-unpaid citizen lobbyists, including some parents of vaccine-injured children, sought to educate House and Senate Health Committee members on the issue.
Imagine their surprise when some of the liberal DFL senators—such as Linda Berglin and Steve Kelley, who have a good record on mercury in the environment—had no interest in even meeting with the parents to learn about the basis for their concern. One of the mothers—Stephanie Lee, whose daughter suffered repeated vaccine injuries and died—lives in Sen. Lourey’s district. Lourey listened at length to the tales of tragic vaccine injury, with mercury in the vaccines as a prime suspect. Lourey eventually agreed to author a bill aimed at curtailing the use of mercury in vaccines. Not a complete ban on thimerosal, the deadly mercury-based preservative, the bill required doctors to use a mercury-free version of a vaccine whenever the mercury-free version can be obtained by the doctor’s best efforts.
Minnesota’s autism crisis
On Feb. 1, 2005, Sen. Lourey brought in Professor Boyd Haley, who holds a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Kentucky and is a leading mercury researcher. Prof. Haley, also a prominent mercury toxicity expert, told the panel that “thimerosal is the most toxic substance I’ve ever studied.” He explained how there is a subset of the population that is less able to excrete mercury than normal. Often that inability is genetically based and sometimes mercury excretion is diminished by the presence of lead, aluminum (used in vaccines) and testosterone (found more in boys). Such people are more susceptible to getting Alzheimer’s disease, like the elderly, and autism and other developmental disorders, like children. Minnesota recorded an increase in autism from 297 new cases in 1993 to 5,076 new cases in 2003, a 16-fold increase. The dramatic increase in autism in the U.S. and the 30-fold increase in learning disabilities in the U.S. neatly parallels the ever-increasing list of state-mandated childhood vaccines. The explosion in autism, ADHD and learning disabilities during the 1990s was an American health disaster, one not seen in Europe or elsewhere, pointing suggestively to the U.S. health care system itself, and vaccination-mania in particular, as the principal culprit. The array of children’s developmental and learning disorders presents a human and an educational/budgetary challenge to Minnesota and to every other state. Today, one out of every six children in the U.S. has a developmental disorder or a behavioral problem, according to the Center for Disease Control.
On March 29, 2005, the senate Health Committee heard further testimony before the vote. Parents of vaccine injured children supported the mercury curbs, invoking the precautionary principle. Gov. Pawlenty’s Department of Health opposed the bill, as it had all along, disputing the science strongly linking vaccine mercury to autism and other neurological and health disorders. They even pooh-poohed concerns about mercury’s effects on pregnant women and the fact that they are pushing the (mercury) flu shot for pregnant women. Once the testimony had been completed, Sen. Kelley, seeing that some of its supporters were out of the room, immediately moved that the bill be “tabled.” His motion prevailed, thus killing the bill for the 2005 session.
In 2006, the bill’s authors, Rep. Laura Brod (R-New Prague) and Sen. Lourey, tried again. Again, Steve Kelley was aloof, refusing to meet with parents and the vaccine injured and other citizen lobbyists. But this year Kelley did not do the dirty work; a Senate Health Committee hearing appeared imminent when the bill was called over to the House Health Committee by Chair Bradley, who also opposed it. It was defeated by a vote on a 8 to 6 margin, with two abstentions.
On the campaign trail, Kelley would rather not bring the mercury issue up. If it is brought up, he will change the subject and move on as quickly as possible. But his performance in the grassroots effort to curtail mercury in vaccines revealed a candidate who is closer to the Pawlenty Health Department big-business orientation than to activists teaching a precautionary principle. While Lourey and Hatch have both shown a willingness to listen and learn about the tragedy of mercury’s adverse impacts on our vulnerable people, Kelley has preferred to remain in lock-step with the medical-pharmaceutical establishment.