The nation is in the midst of an epic flu season, and now Delaware is temporarily lifting its ban on a mercury-containing ingredient in vaccinations to keep up with vaccine shortages.
Pediatrician and Director of Public Health Karyl Rattay temporarily changed the state’s flu shot rules this week, lifting the ban on vaccines containing thirmerosal. Thirmerosal is a preservative that contains trace amounts of mercury.
State law generally forbids the use of vaccines containing mercury on pregnant women and children under the age of 8. The law has been in place for years. However, Rattay suggests that thirmerosal has a proven safety record.
“Nonetheless, folks have had concern in the past that there might have been harm,” she said.
The mercury-containing preservative was taken out of vaccines not for substantiated medical reasons, she notes, but because of the heightened perceived connection between autism and vaccines. In a statement, Rattay said that pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to the flu, and stated, “Public Health wants to ensure that vaccine is available for those who need it in Delaware,” she said.
Rattay adds that doctors have been concerned at the decreasing availability of the mercury-free vaccine.
“They are not expressing concern about the risk from thimerosal. They are much more concerned about the risk of not being able to protect people from the risk of influenza,” Rattay said.
Nearly 30 children have died from this season’s flu, and two people in Delaware have died from flu-related illness just this month. At this time last year, there were no flu-related deaths reported in the state.
“We branded thimerosal with a scarlet letter,” said Dr. Paul Offit, who heads the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “And now there are people who are scared of thimerosal even though there is now abundant data showing that the level contained in vaccines was never harmful.”
“The notion that there still are states that have a preference against thimerosal-containing vaccines on their books is outdated, archaic and certainly not supported by the science,” Offit said.
Rattay addresses people’s concern with the connection between the mercury-containing ingredient and autism.
“Interesting that thimerosal has largely been taken out of childhood vaccines since the late ’90s, and autism rates have gone up,” Rattay said. “Which is the opposite of what would be expected if thimerosal was causing autism.”
Do you think Delaware should permanently change its laws regarding thimerosal?
Don't touch that old thermometer with mercury in it. It might break! But it's no problem to inject it right into your body if it's in a vaccine.