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Gina Solomon’s Blog

H1N1 Vaccine and Thimerosal: To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

Gina Solomon

Posted October 27, 2009 in Health and the Environment

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The H1N1 flu vaccine is starting to be available at clinics, hospitals, and doctor's offices around the country.  With the pandemic flu in full swing, many people are asking whether they should get the vaccine. The concerns are especially acute because several versions of the injectable vaccine contain the mercury preservative thimerosal. California this week temporarily suspended its ban on thimerosal in vaccines to allow distribution of the H1N1 vaccine.

Thimerosal contains an organic form of mercury called ethyl mercury. Some people have claimed that the historical use of thimerosal in vaccines was responsible for the autism epidemic, and other people just worry because mercury is a neurotoxin. So what should people do? Is this vaccine recommended for pregnant women and kids?

In my view, the answer is definitely yes. Despite the thimerosal.

According to the package insert, a multi-dose vial of the H1N1 flu vaccine contains about 25 micrograms of mercury per dose. In comparison, an average can of albacore tuna contains about 60 micrograms of mercury. So the vaccine offers a dose of mercury that is less than that in 1/2 can of tunafish. At the same time, the vaccine protects against a disease that at best results in several days of discomfort and missed school or work, and at worst results in serious complications and even death. Seems like a worthwhile trade-off.

I was a strong advocate for the removal of mercury from vaccines. In most cases it's unnecessary, since single-dose vaccines don't need a preservative. Also, there were valid concerns about the cumulative mercury dose that young children receive from all of their vaccinations. The scientific studies looking at the autism-thimerosal connection have convincingly shown no link, but that doesn't negate the extensive science on methyl mercury (the organic form of mercury found in fish) which has been clearly shown to cause neurological delay after prenatal exposure.

So why make an exception for thimerosal in the H1N1 vaccine? This vaccine needed to be developed and distributed very quickly, since this pandemic flu emerged recently and is spreading fast. Multi-dose vials are more efficient to produce, but they require a preservative. It's essentially a trade-off for speed. If the thimerosal were really worrisome at this level, the trade-off might not be worth it, but in my opinion it is. For those people who are really worried about thimerosal, there will be some preservative-free vaccine distributed, and there's the FluMist (for those who can take it). But not everyone can take FluMist, and waiting for the preservative-free vaccine means being unprotected for longer - you take your chances with this flu.

The CDC recommends that the following groups get vaccinated: pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children under 6 months of age, healthcare personnel, children and young adults up through age 24, and people aged 25-64 with certain health conditions. As a health care provider, I'm in a group that should get the vaccine in order to protect my patients, so I'm on my way over to get it. Maybe I'll skip the tunafish sandwich today for lunch.

 

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Comments

Jim KressOct 29 2009 01:12 PM

You people forget (or are too young to remember) the Guillain-Barre epidemic that was associated with the last hysterical response to the so called "influenza pandemic" in the 1968 H3N2 viral outbreak.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a temporary inflammation of the nerves, causing pain, weakness, and paralysis in the extremities and often progressing to the chest and face. It typically occurs after recovery from a viral infection or, in rare cases, following immunization for influenza.

I have personal knowledge of this syndrome, since my brother-in-law suffered from it, died twice, was revived twice, and currently lives in extreme pain, on a daily basis, due to the destruction and slow regeneration of the nerve sheaths in his body - caused by the syndrome.

Due to the significant probability of incurring Guillain-Barre, and the current outbreak associated with the current H1N1 vaccine, a vast plurality of medical personnel have refused to take the vaccine and have also refused to have their children vaccinated.

Vaccinate as a personal choice is yours to take. However, I and my familiy will not be vaccinated. The potential consequences are too extreme to risk.

Chris MNov 3 2009 08:27 PM

Jim,

Your hysteria could cause people who cannot get the vaccine to become ill. And it could be serious for your children. Stop getting your science from Jim Carrey, Morning Joe, and Jenny McCarthy.

Why do people become anti-science once every generation?

Kelly DuleNov 5 2009 06:41 PM

The trade off here is to receive an unknown factor of short term protection against a sickness that you probably won't get anyway and that you almost certainly will recover from completely if you do get (while gaining a measure of natural immunity) by accepting an admittedly small immediate but also unknown long term health risk in exchange for this promise of protection.

Given the small nature of the promised, but as of yet unproven, measure of protection, why is it so unspeakably crazy to want to accept the least possible risk?

I mean, can we have a reasonable discussion about this or not?

I want my injectable flu shot without thimerosal. And all three manufacturers make versions of these flu shots without thimerosal. In fact, the CDC is using the thimerosal-free versions of these shots in all of its safety tests for these vaccines. So why can't I get what I want?

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