Vaccines news, part 2: The return of thimerosal?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization agree that thimerosal should be used in vaccines, countering the ban contained in a draft treaty from the United Nations Environment Program.

Thimerosal, a mercury-containing organic compound, has been used to prevent the growth of fungi and bacteria in multi-dose vials of vaccines since the 1930s.  However, in the 1990s, as a result of public pressure driven by congressional public hearings and media attention about potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects from thimerosal, the AAP and the United State Public Health Service called for the removal of mercury from all vaccines. Now the AAP has changed its mind.

Besides the fact that multiple studies have found no association between harm and thimerosal-containing vaccines, thimerosal is an essential preservative for vaccine use, especially in the developing world. With the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, millions of people, especially those in low-income and developing countries, would have “significantly restricted access to lifesaving vaccines for many years,” according to pediatricians.

They go on to say that banning thimerosal would result in “increasing manufacturing costs, reducing manufacturing capacity because of the need to switch to single-dose vials, increase waste from single-dose packaging, and strain transportation and storage space,” not to mention that vaccines produced without thimerosal require refrigeration, which is not possible in many third-world countries.

Louis Z. Cooper, a former president of the AAP, sums it up very clearly. “Science clearly documented that we can’t find hazards from thimerosal in vaccines. The preservative plays a critical role in distribution of vaccine to the global community. It was a no-brainer what our position needed to be.” He goes even further to say that “if the members had known then what they know now, they never would have recommended against using it.” And Dr. Walter Orenstein of the Emory University Vaccine Center adds “The continued benefits of thimerosal use in vaccine manufacturing clearly outweigh any perceived risks.”

ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom goes one step further. “It is mind boggling the amount of damage that has been done by the false link of thimerosal (and vaccines themselves) to autism. Much of the “credit” here lies at the feet of Andrew Wakefield, whose falsified data on the autism-vaccine (non)link caused who knows how many parent to forgo vaccinations for their kids. It is truly horrifying to consider how much illness and death can be attributed to one dishonest scientist.”

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