|Autism fears over
mercury in flu jabs
FOUR of the seven flu jabs being issued by the government this winter contain a mercury-based preservative which is being withdrawn in the US amid fears of its links to autism.
The Department of Health has confirmed that most of the flu vaccines being issued through the National Health Service contain thimerosal, a preservative which is 50 per cent composed of ethyl mercury.
Thimerosal is already being withdrawn in the US, where a government health authority has warned that it has a "biologically plausible" link to autism and should not be given to pregnant women.
The UK government has this year chosen seven vaccines to combat three expected strains of the flu virus, and is aiming to vaccinate 70 per cent of people aged over 65 in a UK-wide programme.
The Scotsman can today name the four which, according to the Department of Health, contain thimerosal - and, therefore, mercury. They are Fluvirin, Fluarix, Influvac and Agrippal. The mercury-free vaccines are Inflexal V, Begrivac and this yearís flu vaccine from Aventis Pasteur.
Officials have said they do not recognise any health risk posed by the mercury in thimerosal. As a result, patients - whether pregnant or not - are not being advised which vaccines contain mercury.
"There is no evidence of long-term adverse effects due to the exposure levels of thimerosal in vaccines," a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
"The risk-benefit balance of thimerosal-containing vaccines remains overwhelmingly positive."
She added that the Institute of Medicine in the US had looked at the issue and had "concluded that evidence does not support a causal association between thimerosal contained in vaccines and neuro-developmental disorders".
The IoMís exact conclusion, however, argued that such a link was "biologically plausible" - and said there is not enough evidence to accept or reject a link between thimerosal and neurological disorders.
In a statement which fuelled fears about thimerosal safety, it urged that "full consideration should be given to removing thimerosal from any biological product to which infants, children and pregnant women are exposed".
Pregnant women are advised to avoid thimerosal because the mercury affects the foetus to a greater extent than the mother. For the same reason, pregnant women are advised against having silver dental fillings fitted as the amalgam is 50 per cent composed of mercury.
However, the Department of Health does not include pregnant women among the categories of people at risk from the flu vaccine.
It instead lists those with heart problems and people allergic to henís eggs, because the vaccines are incubated in a similar substance.
The Department of Health said its decision to buy mercury-free vaccines is "a purely precautionary measure", which is part of "a move in both the US and Europe to minimise the exposure of infants to mercury".
Robert McKay, a Scottish co-ordinator of the National Autistic Society, said he was astonished that dangers about mercury in vaccines have not been spelled out by the government. "We need access to the same information given to parents in other countries."
"If we have a choice in vaccine, we would like to know about it. This information should be given to families in this country so they can make decisions for themselves."
Mercuryís links to autism and neuro-developmental disorders have been well documented.
Children born in the Faroe Islands in 1987 were found to have developmental disorders after their mothers ate mercury-contaminated whale meat.
Two years ago, the Journal of Neurochemistry ran a study showing brain cells exposed to even minute levels of mercury developed the exact set of neuro-deformations associated with Alzheimerís disease.
Last year, Canadian research reinforced the suggested link between exposure to mercury and Alzheimerís.
Dose of danger dressed up as protector
2 jan 2003
WOULD you like your flu vaccine with mercury or without? Anyone familiar
with a toxic metal would not hesitate in their answer. But it's not a
question that anyone will be asked this winter.
How about your child's immunisations? Would you like a preservative-free
vaccine - or one which contains a substance which a US government's medical
adviser says has a "biologically plausible" link to autism?
This is the thimerosal debate. In the US, a it is huge storm involving
congressmen, medics, some £30 billion in lawsuits and a cover-up which has
left Washington mystified. But in the UK, the storm has yet to break.
Thimerosal is not new. It has been used since the Thirties to kill any
bacteria in vaccines - but by hugely controversial means. Its toxic power
is drawn from its main ingredient: mercury, second only to plutonium as the
most toxic element.
Once injected in the body, thimerosal breaks down into ethyl mercury - a
substance liable to bind with body protein and, most ominously, brain
tissue. Once lodged in the body, mercury traces are exceptionally difficult
Worse, mercury is a proven neurotoxin - that is, even small doses have been
linked to brain defects including fibromyalgia, lupus and depression. It
has not taken US lawyers long to extend this trail to autism.
Other scientific studies have found that mercury placed next to brain
tissue leads to deformities associated with Alzheimer's disease. This is
the substance which the government believes is safe to put in flu vaccines.
There must be a good reason for this, is the immediate response. But this
is the most staggering part of the debate. Mercury is not needed in these
vaccines - indeed, mercury-free jabs are available across the NHS now. So
why is no-one being told?
This is being treated as a scandal in the US, where the House of
Representatives has set up a committee to investigate the issue. Suspicion
has been fuelled by the behaviour of the US Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), the supreme decision-making body on vaccines. It decided to phase
out mercury in three years ago. The FDA has adopted a somewhat
contradictory attitude. "Lead, cadmium, and mercury are examples of
elements that are toxic when present at relatively low levels," it advises
chemists. But this is the same FDA which approves the intravenous injection
of such mercury in infants and pensioners.
It does not take a medical expert to spot something amiss. Mercury is a
neurotoxin - no-one disputes that. Its use in child vaccines was greatly
increased during the Nineties - a decade where autism spiralled. Mercury in
the brain induces deformities common to Alzheimer's. Might the two be
The House of Representatives committee has produced two booklets of
evidence pointing to the danger of mercury in medicine. Meanwhile, the
lawyers, scenting a tobacco-style payout, have produced their own facts.
The US government has laid down what a "safe limit" of mercury for infants.
The committee found that the vaccination programme could leave children
with 41 times more mercury than that laid down by this limit - a key
finding which fuelled calls for its abolition from medicine.
This safe limit is based on studies of 900 children born in 1987 in the
Faroe Islands whose mothers had eaten mercury-contaminated whale meat. When
they grew up, these children had slower reaction times and diminished
The amount of mercury in their umbilical cord blood was minute - 0.1
micrograms per kilo. But even this trace of was enough to trigger a set of
neurological conditions commonly associated with autism.
Mercury is, after all, strong enough for the amount in a thermometer to
pollute a small lake. So how can any amount be considered safe? This is the
conclusion of Dan Burton, a congressman and the chairman of the special
committee, who asked that all mercury-containing vaccines be discontinued,
given that mercury-free substitutes are now available.
"To ignore an avoidable risk and to put 8,000 children a day in harm's way
is not only inhumane, it may be criminal," he said in a report to George
Bush, the US president.
The Department of Health does not use the term "avoidable risk". It simply
says its committee for safety of medicines (CSM) has reviewed the issue and
"concluded that the risk- benefit balance of thimerosal-containing vaccines
remains overwhelmingly positive". This is a trick statement. The CSM, it
says, believes that a mercury vaccine is safer than no vaccine at all. This
is true - but is a mercury-free vaccine safer than a thimerosal-based
vaccine? There is no answer on this point.
But the choice facing Britain is between a complete portfolio of
mercury-free vaccinations - including three out of the seven flu jabs being
made public this winter - or those still using thimerosal. The question is
why GPs are not advising patients that one vaccine contains mercury and the
other does not.
The latest statement was made last month by Lord Hunt, a health minister,
who said the CSM has its findings backed up by the Institute of Medicine
(IoM) in the US.
He said: "The IoM published a detailed review of the evidence relating to
possible neurotoxicity of thimerosal in vaccines in October 2001. The IoM
findings were consistent with the CSM conclusions."
Lord Hunt is not telling the whole story. This was the same IoM report
which said the link between thimerosal and autism is "biologically
plausible" - and that the mercury may well kill enough brain cells to
scramble children's thinking.
Dr Marie McCormick, who chaired the IoM expert panel, advised parents to
ask doctors for mercury-free vaccines if they are available. Wise advice -
available from absolutely no-one in Britain.
The Department of Health says that the IoM report "concluded that the
evidence did not support a causal association between thimerosal contained
in vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders."
Here, for the second time, is a slightly misleading statement. No evidence?
Compare this to the FDA's summary of the same IoM report into thimerosal
"It concluded that the evidence is inadequate to either accept or reject a
causal relationship between thimerosal exposure to childhood vaccines and
neurodevelopmental disorders of autism," it said.
It is, in other words, a grey area. Mercury may lead to autism; it may not
- we don't have the evidence to accept or reject this. We just don't know.
So why is the Department of Health not admitting this doubt? It may be
connected to the 200 lawsuits which were filed, claiming a total of £30
billion on behalf of parents of autistic children. This was seen off by the
US government when it passed the anti-terrorist homeland security bill last
month - guaranteeing Eli Lilly & Co, a former maker of thimerosal,
protection from multi-million-dollar lawsuits.
What had this to do with terrorism? Not very much - but it is a sign of how
seriously the link between thimerosal and autism is being taken in the
United States. The Department of Health is falling increasingly victim to
the compensation culture.
There is one final aspect to the IoM report which is not being reproduced
in the UK. It urged that "full consideration be given to removing
thimerosal from any biological product to which infants, children and
pregnant women are exposed".
The Scottish Parliament has the power to ban all mercury from vaccines now.
Health is devolved, the vaccines are available and GPs have the freedom to
order what they want. It can be an example of Holyrood using its smaller
size to innovate.
The medical evidence is mounting. One study suggests it is hypersensitivity
to thimerosal, not necessarily mercury poisoning, which triggers autism. A
new study into mercury and Alzheimer's is expected later this year.
In the mean time, being injected with traces of ethyl mercury is a risk
that no-one in Britain needs to take. The latest, mercury-free vaccines are
freely available on the NHS - for those who know how to ask for them by
name. Sooner or later, the government will tell us about it.