Banning Vaccine Preservative Would Harm Poor People in Poor Countries

Activists who claimed that the preservative thimerosal - ethyl mercury - in vaccines was causing neurotoxic effects, including autism in children managed to push manufacturers and physicians into banning it in vaccines in the U.S. more than a decade ago. The result of their campaign was lower vaccination rates in the U.S. and higher costs for routine childhood vaccinations. Part of the higher costs is the result of switching to single dose vaccines that must be refrigerated as opposed to multidose vaccines that can be stored and transported without refrigeration.

Now the same activists are trying to get the World Health Organization (WHO) to favor a global ban on the preservative. However, many poor countries do not have the funds or facilities to manufacture, store and safely transport vaccines requiring refrigeration. More importantly, there is no scientific evidence that the tiny amounts of ethyl mercury in multidose vaccine vials causes any health problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has just issued a statement urging the WHO to approve vaccines that are made safe using thimerosal. The AAP's, "Global Vaccination Recommendations and Thimerosal" states:

Overwhelmingly, the evidence collected over the past 15 years has failed to yield any evidence of significant harm, including serious neurodevelopmental disorders, from use of thimerosal in vaccines. Dozens of studies from countries around the world have supported the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines. Specifically, the Institute of Medicine, and others have concluded that the evidence favors rejection of a link between thimerosal and autism. Careful studies of the risk of other serious neurodevelopmental disorders have failed to support a causal link with thimerosal...

As advocates for the health of all children, we strongly support these efforts also. Immunization prevents ∼2.5 million deaths a year globally. Millions more deaths could be prevented if global immunization efforts are bolstered. The preponderance of available evidence has failed to demonstrate serious harm associated with thimerosal in vaccines. As such, we extend our strongest support to the recent Strategic Advisory Group of Experts recommendations to retain the use of thimerosal in the global vaccine supply.

Unfortunately, back in 1999 the AAP endorsed the removal of thimerosal from vaccines "out of an abundance of caution." The 1999 ruling by the AAP very likely stoked anti-vaccine hysteria with the result that thousands of kids suffered, and yes, some even died, needlessly from preventable infectious diseases. This is the precautionary principle in action.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It's democracy in action!

  • Sevo||

    Anything to keep rich, white chem-fearing dumbos happy! Worked so well with DDT.

  • Sevo||

    OT, but related:
    Major-city newspaper (which is *not* the same thing as a major newspaper) turns over its front page for a press release from a chem-scare group:
    "Few pregnant women warned about chemicals"
    Yep, right there on the front page, bylined "Jane Kay, Environmental Health News"
    It seemed he Chron had hit bottom several times before, only to lower the bar even more.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Just think of it as saving drone ammunition.

  • Tim||

    The science is settled.

  • IceTrey||

    A simple Google search will tell you that ethyl mercury does not bio accumulate. It's methyl mercury that is the dangerous one.

  • Brandybuck||

    To all you libertarians who gleefully jumped aboard the anti-vaccination bandwagon: Yes, I know it's your right not to vaccinate yourself or your children, but do the rest of us a favor and PULL YOUR KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL! Better yet, go form your own anarcho-communes and voluntarily isolate yourselves from the rest of society. We'll both be safer that way.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    I'm a libertarian and a major advocate for vaccination. I'm up to date and regularly get my flu shot. What should I do?


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.