The New Controversy Over Thimerosal in Vaccines

vaccinesThe U. N. Environment Program is considering a ban on thimerosal. It is a preservative that is used in vaccines in developing countries. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed what the World Health Organization has said – that it should not be banned. An organization called SafeMinds disagrees.

What is thimerosal?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines and other products since the 1930’s. There is no convincing evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site.

Why was it removed from vaccines?
Once again, according to the CDC:

However, in July 1999, the Public Health Services agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure.

Dr. Louis Cooper, from Columbia University, in New York, was on the American Academy of Pediatrics board of directors at the time. He now says:

It was absolutely a matter of precaution because of the absence of more information. Subsequently an awful lot of effort has been put into trying to sort out whether thimerosal causes any harm to kids, and the bottom line is basically, it doesn’t look as if it does.

In other words, they were cautious, and took the time to investigate if thimerosal in vaccines caused harm to kids. It does not. It does not cause autism.

What does the United Nations (UN) say?
The United Nations Environment Program is considering a ban on thimerosal. It is still being used as a vaccine preservative in developing countries. The UN is not expected to make a decision until after its final meeting on the issue in January of 2013.

Who is against the ban?
The American Academy of Pediatrics wants to keep thimerosal in vaccines because the preservative prevents the rest of a multi-dose vial from becoming contaminated with bacteria or fungi each time a dose is administered.

The AAP notes that in countries where many children still die of vaccine-preventable diseases, that it is less expensive, and easier, to use multi-dose vials of vaccines as opposed to single-dose vials. Keeping the vaccines in developing countries refrigerated would also be much harder than it is to use a vaccine with thimerosal in it.

Who is for the ban?
An organization called SafeMinds has been pushing for an international ban on thimerosal in vaccines. You can read their press release about it if you would like to. Towards the end, SafeMind Executive Director Eric Uram says: (in part)

Decisions affecting millions of children globally should not be based on opinions but on sound science.

He, and SafeMinds, do not accept the three separate papers that were published in the journal Pediatrics that argue against an international ban of thimerosal. They do not accept the new statement from the AAP that was published in Pediatrics. They do not accept the World Health Organization’s views about thimerosal.

Image by Dawn Huczek on Flickr