Mercury in Vaccines
A few weeks ago in Washington, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress that will require the removal of a preservative called Thimerosal from all vaccines used in the United States. While the event made no headlines, it marked an important shift in a medical controversy that has raged for decades.
Thimerosal is a compound of mercury, and mercury is a deadly toxin, known to cause severe neurological and brain damage in humans. But, like many other harmful substances, it is believed to be safe if administered in extremely small doses.
Minute quantities of mercury will protect vaccines against contamination by alien microbes, especially in multi-use vials where the hypodermic needle is inserted repeatedly. It was just such a vial that caused the deaths of 12 Australian children in 1927, leading directly to the first use of Thimerosal in 1931.
Although the toxicity of mercury was known at least since the early 1800s, Thimerosal did not become an issue until the tragedy at Japan’s Minamata Bay in the late 1950s. Thousands there died or suffered permanent injury from eating fish contaminated with industrial mercury dumped into the sea.
Minamata disease, as it became known, began appearing in many parts of the world. But it was not until the mid-1980s that the spotlight turned on Thimerosal and vaccines. The trigger was a doubling of the incidence of autism in North American children in a period of just five years. Some health practitioners saw a connection to mercury. Others did not.
For more than a decade, researchers sought a mercury-autism link. Conclusions varied and the debate became acrimonious. Finally, in 2001 a blue ribbon panel of experts convened by the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued what was supposed to be a definitive report: Thimerosal was not a cause of autism.
Meantime, however, autism had increased 10-fold in North America, an epidemic by any standard. (Some of the increase may have been due to a broadening in the definition of autism.) The Autism Society of America rejected the IOM research as flawed and said more study was needed. To this day, no cause for the disease has been found.
Health Canada maintains “there are no issues, theoretical or proven regarding Thimerosal in vaccines and adults.” But it hedges when it comes to children, recommending that pre-schoolers and pregnant mothers not be given vaccines that contain mercury. Health authorities in many countries have taken the same step, which is usually described as a “precautionary” measure. But a precaution against what, if Thimerosal is safe?
Clearly, there are unanswered questions here, not least the role of Big Pharma, the multinational drug companies who are enjoying what they describe as “explosive” growth in their vaccine business. They predict annual sales of $28 billion within five years.
Health Canada says only a “very small” supply of mercury-free flu vaccines will be available in the 2005-06 flu season. If you can’t find any, you may want to think twice about a getting flu shot for your child.
©Dr. Ashely Gordon, 2005.