The Vaccine Safety Double Standard
|The Vaccine Safety Double Standard|
At a United Nations meeting held this past July in Punte del Este, Uruguay, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally revealed its 2004 guidelines on eliminating, reducing, and replacing thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used primarily in vaccines, to public health officials worldwide.
Why would issuing eight-year-old guidelines about removing a toxic preservative from vaccines matter? It is, to say the least, a long story, filled with large doses of intrigue, back-room dealings, and major disparities between the haves and have-nots of the world. But in truth, it all comes down to three simple facts. One: Thimerosal is toxic. Two: Stocks of thimerosal-free vaccines are readily available, particularly in wealthier, Western nations. And three: Millions of people, especially those living in developing countries, continue to be unnecessarily exposed to mercury through vaccines that contain toxic doses of thimerosal.
These three facts have been at the heart of a decadelong fight led by the Coalition for Mercury-free Drugs (CoMeD) to pressure local, state and national governments worldwide to ban the use of thimerosal in human pharmaceuticals, especially vaccines. CoMeD charges that eight decades of scientific studies and extensive peer-reviewed scientific and medical papers have all come to the same conclusion: Thimerosal, 49 percent mercury by weight and a recognized neurotoxin, poses a significant health risk, especially to pregnant women and children. Manufacturers acknowledge that exposure in utero or in childhood can lead to mild-to-severe mental retardation and/or autism in mercury-sensitive children.
Earlier this year, a study funded by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare again found that prenatal exposure to the drug thimerosal produces permanent brain impairment and autism-like abnormalities. That study, conducted by Dr. Ida-Eto, concluded, “…embryonic exposure to thimerosal produces lasting impairment of the brain…thus every effort should be made to avoid the use of thimerosal.”
Astoundingly, the material safety data sheets for thimerosal list not only mild-to-severe mental retardation, but also miscarriage and abortion as potential outcomes to in-utero exposure. Despite such grave warnings—and the fact that safer, less toxic alternatives are readily available and economical—thimerosal continues to be used as a preservative in vaccines, including the flu shot administered routinely to pregnant women. Thimerosal—an unnecessary, undisclosed and unsafe vaccine component—is leaving millions of unsuspecting victims in its wake.
I personally can attest to this point. Like so many others, I was injected with thimerosal without knowing it when I was 28 weeks pregnant with my second son, Wesley. This prenatal exposure, coupled with further exposure to mercury from numerous, routine thimerosal-containing vaccines after his birth, disabled my son, who ultimately was diagnosed with both autism and mercury poisoning. We estimate lifetime care for Wesley will cost more than $20 million.
This is but one of the many unspoken costs of not discontinuing the use of thimerosal in vaccines and other drugs. In the United States, statistics show that in my son’s generation, vaccines typically contained more t
han 100 times the maximum safety exposure limit for mercury. As a result, more than one in six children in the U.S. today is affected by a behavioral or developmental disorder. More than 25 percent will have at least one lifetime chronic medical condition. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued in May of this year indicates that one out of every 88 children in the U.S. has autism, up from a historic rate of 1 in 10,000.
Given those alarming numbers, you would assume government pressure to ban thimerosal use would be intense. You would be wrong. Instead, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to assert that there is “no evidence of harm” from thimerosal use in vaccines, and that “the benefits of influenza vaccination outweigh the theoretical risk, if any, for thimerosal exposure,” a claim that contradicts science, medicine and common sense. Moreover, the CDC continues to refuse to state a preference for giving available thimerosal-free vaccines to pregnant women and developing children.
Similarly, the U.S. State Department, through its Office of Environmental Policy, is espousing a position on mercury in human pharmaceuticals that harms both the reputation of our nation and the health of our children. Testifying in July 2012 at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC4) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the State Department delegation voiced its support for a ban of mercury from cosmetics, while quietly opposing the removal of mercury from vaccines injected into pregnant women and newborn children the world over.
Rev. Lisa Sykes at the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON). Rev Sykes represented the Coalition for Mercury-free Drugs (CoMeD, Inc.), of which she is the president. A non-governmental organization (NGO), CoMeD is the strongest voice advocating for a complete ban of mercury in medicines, especially vaccines.
This pattern of quiet opposition has been replicated internationally. Since June 2000, the World Health Organization repeatedly has held meetings—always behind closed doors—to discuss the use of mercury in vaccines. While those meetings purport to examine alternative vaccine preservatives, as well as the economic, programmatic and manufacturing implications of moving to single-dose, preservative-free vaccines, the results of those sessions include repeated and hollow declarations that there is no evidence of harm from the use of thimerosal in vaccines, and that certain vaccines in the developing world must continue to contain thimerosal.
Such unfounded assertions have led not only to a continued plethora of misinformation about thimerosal, but also to the quiet but steady establishment of two standards of vaccine safety, one which is predominately mercury-free for developed, Western countries and one that is mercury-preserved for developing countries. This de facto economic prioritization of mercury-free vaccines for wealthy Western nations, while developing countries—and especially the women and children who live in them—receive mercury-containing ones, constitutes a double standard of safety.
This practice is even more egregious when we consider that thimerosal failed the United States’ and the European Union’s pharmacopeia tests for an effective preservative. The bottom line is that the existence of a two-tier standard for vaccine safety clearly reveals a lack of ethics and honesty for all the world to see.
This disparity must be corrected rapidly, and preference in production must shift to mercury-free vaccines globally if we hope to avoid accusations of discrimination based on economics or nationality with respect to global immunization policy. No vaccine should be used as a delivery system for an undisclosed poison, for this is a denial of the right of informed consent and of the medical directive to do no harm. No preservative that in repeated studies has been proven to pose a significant health risk leading to autism for some should continue to be foisted upon the most vulnerable among us. This exposure is entirely avoidable, and it must be stopped. Unfortunately, the United States will not act to completely ban the use of thimerosal in the manufacture of vaccines for American children. The FDA refuses to take this action because banning thimerosal use would result in a corresponding closure of markets for these products in developing countries, where regulatory laws are patterned closely after those of the U.S.
Perversely, in order to keep these foreign markets open to unsafe vaccines, the U.S. government is adamantly defending the use of mercury-preserved flu shots for the American market. Moreover, the CDC refuses to even state a preference for no-thimerosal vaccines for pregnant women and children in the U.S. Worse, the American people systematically are being denied their right to informed consent because the facts regarding the known dangers of thimerosal and the availability of mercuryfree alternatives are being suppressed.
Cristina Girardi (left) is a member of the Chamber of Deputies of Chile, and advocated strongly against the use of mercury in vaccines.
Despite the duplicitous nature of the U.S. government’s dealings with respect to thimerosal’s use in vaccines, there is hope. Four years ago, the 11.5-million-member United Methodist Church passed the first global resolution on “Protecting Children from Mercury-Containing Drugs,” which advocates for a ban of mercury in medicine on moral and ethical grounds. This faith-based movement has been spearheaded by the United Methodist Women (UMW), which historically has advocated in the areas of education and health, both in the U.S. and around the world.
Spurred on by the United Methodist Church’s historic resolution, CoMeD and other organizations have advocated relentlessly for a ban on thimerosal’s use. Along the way, CoMeD has picked up numerous allies. Earlier this year, the Health Freedom Congress, comprising 40 health freedom organizations from across the U.S., passed a resolution to support removal of thimerosal from all drugs.
Significantly, not only did the Health Freedom Congress pass the resolution, but all 40 of the organizations involved were listed individually as direct signers. These organizations speak for tens of millions of Americans involved in the Health Freedom Movement. Just as important, unlike the American Academy of Pediatrics or other professional organizations that have a direct financial stake in the vaccine issue, these organizations represent the interests of average Americans who are making health decisions that are best for their families.
In April 2012, Chile adopted legislation making it the first developing country to prohibit the use of thimerosalpreserved vaccines. Ironically, Chile’s decision was announced as the World Health Organization (WHO) was meeting in Geneva, Switzerland—again behind closed doors—to discuss the ongoing negotiations to write a global, legally-binding treaty on mercury. As the world’s largest distributor of mercury-containing vaccines, WHO concluded, perhaps not surprisingly, that thimerosal should not be banned.
All of which brings us to the United Nations meeting this past July in Uruguay. Met with unprecedented resistance to its defense of the use of neurotoxic mercury in vaccines—including an impassioned speech by Cristina Girardi, a member of the Chamber of Deputies of Chile—the World Health Organization finally revealed its 2004 guidelines on eliminating, reducing and replacing thimerosal in vaccines to public health officials worldwide.
This move by the WHO is a huge response to a nascent, global outcry against mercury-containing vaccines and other drugs. Many individual nations and entire continents are now expressing their desire for mercury-free vaccines. But the fight is far from over. Until the U.S. takes action to safeguard its own children from the ravages of mercury in vaccines, not to mention protecting children around the globe, we must continue to pressure the powers-that-be.
In an era when cost-effective, much less toxic, and more effective alternatives are available and, in fact, already in use as in-process sanitizers and preservatives in vaccines and other pharmaceutics, there is no conscionable justification for the continuing use of thimerosal or any other mercury compounds in medicine. A society that values freedom simply cannot continue to diminish the intellects and the potential of its own children by unnecessarily injecting them with neurotoxic mercury.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #36.
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