A reader pushes back on this post:
In 1999, shortly before my first child was born, a relative asked me to take a look at vaccine additives. In a previous life, I designed investigations of Superfund sites. I decided to approach this as if I were analyzing dangerous chemicals at a waste site. After a review of all vaccine additives, I decided to take a closer look at the amount of organic mercury in vaccines. I approached my analysis much like the epidemiologists with whom I worked during my career in hazardous waste management.
What I found was astonishing.
Applying the dosage limits in the EPA’s IRIS database for methyl mercury, I discovered that the vaccine schedule was causing two-month old infants to be injected with 120 times the maximum amount of organic mercury. Newborns and six-month-olds were also being injected with multiples of the maximum exposure level. While the EPA database did not have data for the exact type of organic mercury in vaccines, it made sense at the time to apply the numbers for the most chemically similar compound.
Since 1999, the FDA has spoken out of both sides of its mouth about ethyl mercury. On the one hand, it was deemed dangerous enough to be removed from most childhood vaccines. On the other hand, they have made interesting claims about ethyl mercury being relatively safe, when compared to methyly mercury, despite the fact there hasn’t been any significant analysis of it. As of today, the EPA has not added ethyl mercury to the IRIS database. My guess is that due to lack of data and analysis.
The bottom line is that the FDA and the vaccine community have made at least one major mistake as the vaccine schedule has been expanded over the years. And in my humble opinion, this is enough to question everything about the vaccine program. If we label every person who dares ask simple questions about vaccines a “diseased truther”, the vaccine program will likely go off the rails again, as it did during the 1990s.
A strong counterpoint from a recent NPR piece:
Thimerosal, which contains a form of mercury, was removed from most childhood vaccines in the U.S. and Europe more than a decade ago, amid public fear that it could cause autism. Several large studies later found no risk from the preservative and that removing it did nothing to change autism rates. Now the proposal before the U.N. has public health officials once again trying to reassure people that thimerosal is safe. Three separate papers in the journal Pediatrics argue against an international ban.
“This is critical,” says Dr. Walter Orenstein of the Emory Vaccine Center at Emory University, and an author of one of the papers. “Lives potentially would be lost if we banned thimerosal from vaccines.” Thimerosal keeps vaccines from going bad in parts of the world where other options, such as refrigeration or single-dose vials, aren’t practical.
The proposed ban is part of a larger effort to reduce exposure to mercury, which can affect brain development. And public health experts strongly support most aspects of that effort, Orenstein says. “But when it comes to thimerosal in vaccines, the benefits far outweigh any risks,” he says, adding that a ban could mean the return of diseases that used to kill millions of children each year in developing countries. “Pertussis or whooping cough could really resurge in these areas,” Orenstein says.
But Orenstein and other experts weren’t always so certain about thimerosal. In 1999, they asked vaccine makers in the U.S. to stop using the preservative in childhood vaccines. At the time, some parents of children with autism were alleging that the thimerosal in vaccines caused the disorder. Also, researchers realized that some children could be getting more mercury from vaccines than the Environmental Protection Agency deemed safe. So Orenstein says he and others erred on the side of caution. “At the time, we just didn’t know what the toxic effects might be or might not be,” he says. “And one of our concerns was, what if we did the studies and three years later found there was harm?”
The studies showed just the opposite, though. And scientists also determined that the form of ethyl mercury in thimerosal is far less dangerous than methyl mercury, the form found in seafood.