Pediatricians support use of thimerosal in vaccine supply

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 20, 2012

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The ethylmercury-containing preservative thimerosal should not be banned from the global vaccine supply, says an American Academy of Pediatrics statement published online Dec. 17 in Pediatrics.

The statement is in response to a treaty being developed by the United Nations Environmental Programme. If approved, the treaty would lead to the elimination of controllable mercury from the environment, including from the world’s vaccine supply.

The World Health Organization Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization also has recommended allowing thimerosal in vaccines.

Thimerosal has been used as a preservative in immunizations since the 1930s to prevent contamination of multidose virals from bacteria and fungi. It has been eliminated from most vaccines administered in the U.S. But thimerosal remains important in resource-poor countries because it helps reduce immunization cost and demand, health experts say.

Although there are clear neurotoxic effects of methylmercury absorption, ethylmercury has not been associated with such consequences, the AAP statement said (link). Furthermore, data show there is no link between thimerosal and autism.

The AAP’s new statement is a significant reversal of the organization’s 1999 position that called for the elimination of mercury in vaccines. The AAP retired that recommendation in 2002 after evaluating studies on the safety of thimerosal.

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