Objective: It has been suggested that thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines, is a risk factor for the development of autism. We examined whether discontinuing the use of thimerosal-containing vaccines in Denmark led to a decrease in the incidence of autism.
Design: Analysis of data from the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register recording all psychiatric admissions since 1971, and all outpatient contacts in psychiatric departments in Denmark since 1995.
Patients: All children between 2 and 10 years old who were diagnosed with autism during the period from 1971-2000.
Outcome measures: Annual and age-specific incidence for first day of first recorded admission with a diagnosis of autism in children between 2 and 10 years old.
Results: A total of 956 children with a male-to-female ratio of 3.5:1 had been diagnosed with autism during the period from 1971-2000. There was no trend toward an increase in the incidence of autism during that period when thimerosal was used in Denmark, up through 1990. From 1991 until 2000 the incidence increased and continued to rise after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, including increases among children born after the discontinuation of thimerosal.
Conclusions: The discontinuation of thimerosal-containing vaccines in Denmark in 1992 was followed by an increase in the incidence of autism. Our ecological data do not support a correlation between thimerosal-containing vaccines and the incidence of autism.