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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

September, 2004

The Thimerosal Controversy:  An Overview
By Dan Hamburg


 

   Despite a plethora of studies demonstrating a significant link between vaccines containing the mercury-laced preservative thimerosal, and the incidence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to urge parents to give the shots to their children.
   Parent groups and researchers believe that thimerosal (ethyl mercury), a neurotoxin, has contributed to a sharp increase in reported rates of autism and other developmental disorders in children.  Nearly 5,000 compensation claims have been filed in a special industry-funded vaccine injury branch of the US Court of Claims on behalf of children with ASD.
   Mercury was removed from most childhood vaccines (DTaP [Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis], Hepatitis B, Hib [Haemophilus influenza b]) between late 1999 and late 2002.  (The MMR [Measles, Mumps, Rubella], which is a live vaccine, is not compatible with thimerosal.)  Because of this, California now has a population of children nearing age 3 and 4 who received a significantly lower dose of mercury than children born before 2000. 
   Preliminary studies show that the rate of increase in the number of children over age 3 with autism has been in decline for nine months now.  This is the first time autism rates have fallen in the entire 35 years California has been collecting this data in the Department of Developmental Services.
   While thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines and remains out of them, the CDC has adopted a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to add the flu vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule this fall.  (ACIP advises the CDC on immunization recommendations.)
   Most flu vaccine contains thimerosal; thus, unless a parent knows to ask for a mercury-free flu vaccine this fall, the child could get a dose of mercury.  Manufacturers will produce approximately 5-6 million doses of mercury-free vaccine this year out of a total of 85 million doses. Looking at those numbers, it could be difficult to even find a mercury-free shot.
   Are parents who prefer not to subject their children to mercury risking worse?   Not necessarily.  While the 25 micrograms (mcg) of mercury that a child will receive is much less than what children got in the 1990s (187.5 mcg by age six months), some children are highly susceptible to mercury toxicity.
   CDC is recommending that children get a flu vaccine at 6, 7, and 23 months of age and every year thereafter.  At 6 and 7 months, the child would get a dose of 12.4 mcg of mercury from each vaccine, for a cumulative total of 25 mcg by 7 months of age.
   Rep. David Weldon, M.D. (R-FL), who has called the use of thimerosal "medical malpractice," has introduced the Mercury-Free Vaccines Act of 2004 (HR 4169) with 25 co-sponsors.  The bill seeks to ban thimerosal-containing vaccines.  Stuart Burns, the Weldon staffer in charge of the bill thinks it's a no-brainer.  "Who can be against a bill that says we should not inject mercury into newborns or pregnant women?  It's ridiculous that we have any opposition."  But opposition remains stiff.
   According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 1 in 166 children in the US are autistic while 1 in 6 suffers a "learning disability."  HHS recommends testing for lead poisoning, but not mercury, much to the dismay of many outraged scientists and parents who claim that HHS is engaging in deception.
   The incestuous relationship between the pharmaceutical industry (in this case, Eli Lilly & Co., Glaxo, Smith & Kline, Pfizer, and Novartis all manufacture childhood vaccines) and government authorities is a long-standing given.  It has finally led to an ongoing 3-year congressional investigation of the CDC, Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Some unlikely members of Congress, including the ultra-conservative Dan Burton of Indiana, who has an autistic grandson, are at least asking pointed questions.
   In May, Iowa became the first state to ban mercury from childhood vaccines.  Nebraska and California (AB 2943/Pavley) have bills in the works.  The Pavley bill is opposed by the California Medical Association and the Academy of Pediatrics.
   The drug companies and their allies in government say there's no need for action since the mercury-containing vaccine is being "phased out."  However, this begs the question:  if thimerosal is suspect enough to be discontinued, why continue to give the shots?  Surely it isn't the extra $4/shot it currently costs to use "clean" vaccine. 
   Perhaps the reason that the thimerosal-containing vaccines are being used up rather than destroyed is so that the pharmaceutical giants and their allies don't have to admit that they know the stuff is dangerous.  If these companies were found to have knowingly participated in poisoning literally millions of children, the 5,000 parents now lined up at the Vaccine Court might be just the head of the line and damages awards could reach into the billions.
   The question is:  Why are we wagering our children's well-being to cover for the pharmaceutical industry?  Write your state and federal representatives.  Tell them to ban mercury-containing vaccines now and support fair compensation claims in the Vaccine Court. 
   And parents, if you have any fear that your child might be susceptible to mercury toxicity, it might be worth considering holding back on that flu shot.
   Dan Hamburg, a former US congressman, is executive director of Voice of the Environment,
a Marin-based nonprofit.

Web links for related articles:

voiceoftheenvironment.org
safeminds.org
909shot.org
universityofhealth.net
talkinternational.com
autisticsociety.org
autismmercury.com

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