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Lawmaker seeks ban on thimerosal
Lawmaker seeks ban on thimerosal
NEWPORT - Joining a wave of concern over the use of mercury-based
preservatives in vaccines, Rep. J. Russell Jackson (D-Newport) has
introduced legislation that would ban the use of thimerosal in childhood
House Bill-8077 would, with certain exemptions, set limitations and
prohibitions on or after July 1, 2009 regarding the administration and
injection of mercury-containing vaccines. It is the fourth year the Newport
representative has submitted the legislation.
Thimerosal has been used in some vaccines since the 1930s as a preservative,
but in recent years has come under fire by some parents and physicians for
its suspected link to autism.
Opponents of the preservative argue that thimerosal poses an unnecessary
danger to early childhood development due to its heavy metal content.
However, a casual relation between thimerosal and autism has not been firmly
established and many public health officials are dismissive of claims of
According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, with the exception of
some influenza vaccines, none of the routinely recommended childhood
vaccines provided in Rhode Island or nationally contain thimerosal.
Rep. Jackson notes that the decision to stop using thimerosal in vaccines
was done unilaterally by individual drug-makers, not by policy-makers.
"Unless some type of public statute codifies it, then what's to say that the
pharmaceutical companies won't decide to put it back in?" he said.
In a message posted online from Dr. David R. Gifford, director of health for
the Rhode Island Department of Health, parents are informed of a critical
"The public health message regarding mercury is a difficult message to
deliver because not all mercury is the same," it reads. "On one hand, we
warn people that mercury is harmful and they should avoid environmental
exposures to mercury through things like broken thermometers and fish. On
the other hand, we say that influenza vaccines containing thimerosal are
He continued, "It is important to point out that thimerosal, the
preservative used in some flu vaccines to prevent bacterial contamination,
is ethyl mercury. The issue of mercury's harmful and cumulative effects on
health is due to a different form of mercury called methyl mercury."
Public health officials also fear that concern over thimerosal could lead to
some parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. "There are huge risks
to not getting vaccinated," Andrea Bagnall Degos, spokesperson for the Rhode
Island Department of Health said.
In July 1999, the U.S. Public Health Service and The American Academy of
Pediatrics issued a joint statement which was later endorsed by the American
Academy of Family Physicians. "The Public Health Service, The American
Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agree that thimerosal
containing vaccines should be removed as soon as possible," the statement
Rep. Jackson's legislation would codify that sentiment. "To me, it's a
common sense issue," he said.
by Tom Shevlin
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