Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Vaccine Additive Defended in Calls for Rejection of Ban

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Vaccine Additive Defended in Calls for Rejection of Ban

Article excerpt

Several prominent doctors and public health experts warn that banning thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative in vaccines, would devastate public health efforts in developing countries.

A group of prominent doctors and public health experts warns in articles published Monday in the journal Pediatrics that banning thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative in vaccines, would devastate public health efforts in developing countries.

Representatives from governments around the world will meet in Geneva next month in a session convened by the U.N. Environment Program to prepare a global treaty to reduce health hazards by banning certain products and processes that release mercury into the environment.

But a proposal that the ban include thimerosal, which has been used since the 1930s to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination in multidose vials of vaccines, has drawn strong criticism from pediatricians.

They say that the ethyl-mercury compound is critical for vaccine use in the developing world, where multidose vials are a mainstay.

Banning it would require switching to single-dose vials for vaccines, which would cost far more and require new networks of cold storage facilities and additional capacity for waste disposal, the authors of the articles said.

"The result would be millions of people, predominantly in low- and middle-income countries, with significantly restricted access to lifesaving vaccines for many years," they wrote.

In the United States, thimerosal has not been used in children's vaccines since the early 2000s, after the Food and Drug Administration and public health groups came under pressure from advocacy groups that believed there was an association between the compound and autism in children.

At the time, few, if any, studies had evaluated the compound's safety, so the American Academy of Pediatrics called for its elimination in children's vaccines, a recommendation that the authors argued was made under the principle of "do no harm."

Since then, however, there has been a lot of research, and the evidence is overwhelming that thimerosal is not harmful, the authors said. …

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