Flu vaccine contains mercury
The Irish Examiner 20 Sep 2002

By Fionnuala Quinlan

AUTISM campaigner Kathy Sinnott has expressed concern over the inclusion of mercury in the flu vaccine being promoted by the Department of Health. Thiomersal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative, was implicated in the MMR controversy. Campaigners believed the build-up of mercury from other childhood vaccines, such as DPT, rendered vulnerable children's immune systems unable to cope with the live MMR vaccine.

The MMR jab does not contain thiomersal.

British and American health authorities have recommended that vaccine companies phase out the use of thiomersal.

More than 500,000 doses of Agrippal, which contains thiomersal, have been imported for this year's flu vaccine campaign, which begins on Monday.

In a circular to doctors, vaccine producers Chiron Vaccines said the content of thiomersal has been reduced.

However, Kathy Sinnott, whose son Jamie is autistic, described mercury as a highly-toxic substance.

"There is no safe level of mercury. They say there is only a trace amount of thiomersal.

A trace amount of mercury is more than the body needs. It is interesting that the company says that reducing the amount of thiomersal makes the vaccine safer that is admitting there is a problem," she said.

While the flu vaccine is targeted at the elderly, it could pose a risk to autistic children, she said.

The Department of Health recommends people aged over 65, those with chronic diseases such as heart or kidney disease and those with a suppressed immune system, be vaccinated against flu.

Chiron medical director Dr Anjelica Banzhoff said a link between thiomersal and autism had never been proven, but admitted scientific committees have not yet come to a conclusion on the potential toxicity of thiomersal to foetuses.

For this reason, vaccine companies have agreed to remove the mercury preservative from children's vaccines.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Medicines Board said they were not concerned about the vaccine.

"It is quite rare that it is given to children. The trace element (of thiomersal) is so small we are not concerned about it. It is very carefully prescribed," she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health urged target groups to visit their GP to receive the vaccine