Mercury has not been in most vaccines for many years. Currently, only the multi-dose flu vaccines and the Hepatitis B vaccines have any mercury-based preservative in them at all. However, because of the recurring assertions that somehow mercury in vaccines has some link with autism, it’s worth taking one more look at this additive.
One sad fact about this is how one fraudulent story convinced many people that vaccines might not be safe. That view exists today. The short version is displayed here.
The kind of mercury at the center of all the furor is ethyl mercury. It’s NOT elemental Mercury (the silvery liquid we might remember from high school chemistry). It’s NOT methyl mercury either. The difference is important.
The actual additive that was used in some vaccines starting in the 1930s was thimerosal. It was added as a preservative to make sure that the vaccine didn’t contain mold or bacteria. Thimerosal is made of ethyl mercuric chloride, thiosalicylic acid, sodium hydroxide, and ethanol and is more properly called sodium ethylmercuric thiosalicylate, C9H9HgNaO2S. Once in the body, it breaks down rapidly to release ethyl mercury.
In the body, ethyl mercury has a half-life of about 18 days so it disappears from body tissues quite rapidly. In this way, it behaves differently from methyl mercury.
Methyl mercury, on the other hand, IS serious stuff. It accumulates in body tissue and can cause neurological damage. One classic case happened in Japan in 1956. Waste from a chemical plant was dumped into Minamata Bay. It accumulated in fish and shellfish, which people ate. By 2001, almost 1800 people had died, many others were seriously ill and damaged. By 2004, almost $100 million had been paid in compensation. Methyl mercury is quite common in the environment and if you eat fish, you’re taking on some methyl mercury along with your Omega 3 fatty acids.
Methyl mercury is not and has never been, in vaccines. Only ethyl mercury, from thimerosal, used to be in many vaccines and is now only used in multi-dose versions of flu and Hep B vaccine.
Thimerosal has many accepted uses as an antiseptic and antifungal agent. It has been marketed as Merthiolate, an antiseptic that older people might remember. It is used in a variety of products such as antivenins, nasal preparations and tattoo inks.
Over health-risk concerns, thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines that contained it starting in 1999. At this point, only one variety of the flu vaccine and the Hep B vaccine still contain Thimerosal.
Since 1999, continued research has failed to find any link between thimerosal, ethyl mercury and autism in children.
In BC, no routine childhood vaccine has contained thimerosal since 2001. Autism rates have continued to rise, even though mercury was removed from vaccines a decade and a half ago. All of this contributes to the conviction that there is no link between mercury in vaccines and autism or any other condition.
[Update] - I received a comment from "Anonymous" today. His or her main contention was that I said that there couldn't be a link between Autism and Mercury because mercury had been removed from vaccines in Canada and then that I proceeded to mention that two vaccines still had mercury in them. So my argument was invalid. Q.E.D.
Unfortunately, Anonymous didn't read carefully enough. What I "actually" said was that only two vaccines in Canada still contained thimersol (an ethyl mercury compound), namely the multi-dose version of the flu vaccine and the Hep B vaccine. I further went on to say that "...no routine childhood vaccine has contained thimersol since 2001." Neither the multi-dose flu vaccine nor the Hep B vaccine are "routine childhood vaccines".
Note also that there is a single-dose version of the flu vaccine that does not contain thimersol, but neither the single or multi-dose version is routinely given to children.
And yet Autism rates continue to increase. So the argument IS valid. Sorry Anonymous. And, by the way. I have the guts to identify myself when I make my comments and write my blog. Some reason why YOU can't?