Vaccines in the news – an ongoing series

This installment by Dr. David Berger – TACA Physician Advisory member

Although thimerosal/ethylmercury has been removed from most of the infant vaccines in America, I just read in “AAP News” dated June 1, 2012 that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recently announced that thimerosal should still be in the world vaccine supply because of concerns of too low of supply without it (1). The article also says, “Despite claims of anti-vaccine proponents who have erroneously linked thimerosal to autism, studies over the past 15 years have not shown evidence of harm. Some of those activists confused ethylmercury with the dangerous neurotoxin methylmercury.”

A new study from May 31, 2012 on brain and development, the Journal of the Japanese Society of Child Neurology (funded by the Japanese Government) entitled, “Prenatal exposure to organomercury, thimerosal, persistently impairs the serotonergic and dopaminergic systems in the rat brain: Implications for association with developmental disorders”(2). If the first 2 paragraphs in this paper are accurate, how is the AAP saying that there is no evidence of harm from ethylmercury? It seems to me mercury in any quantity or form should be avoided.

Sadly, children in third world countries are still being exposed to thimerosal. Pregnant women in America are still getting exposed as well via recommended annual flu shots. This study implies that even when exposed just during fetal development, neurotransmitter imbalances can persist well into life (at least for rats). It is most unfortunate that fetuses and children will still be exposed to this known toxin.

On another vaccine-related issue, the US Department of Health and Human Services just published a study that showed 3/4 of the largest clinics in America that provide vaccines to children were not properly storing their vaccines (3).  The report concluded the vaccines were being exposed to too high or too low of a temperature for a significant period of time. The end result is a stated concern by HHS that there may be a reduction in the potency and efficacy of the vaccines being given. This report is very troubling, as when a parent makes the informed decision to give their child a vaccine, they would assume that despite the possible risk that comes with vaccination there at least is a benefit in terms of providing immunity against the disease. Besides asking to see labels and package inserts for vaccines, do families now need to also demand seeing the temperature logs that the nurses keep?

Both the issue of thimerosal exposure and vaccine safety will continually come up because parents are becoming more aware of these issues. The question now is how will the AAP and HHS address these concerns to ensure public safety?






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