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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sounding Familiar?

Vaccines will ship in single doses and multidose vials.

By Rick Rouan

The vaccine preservative that some groups have claimed causes autism will be optional in the coming batch of H1N1 vaccines, the county’s health director said.

The injectable vaccines will ship in both single doses, which are thimerosal-free, and the multidose vials that contain the preservative, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thimerosal is a preservative that contains microscopic portions of mercury and is used in multidose vials of vaccines, said Dr. John Venglarcik, the Mahoning County Board of Health medical director.

Autism-awareness groups have tried to identify the preservative as a cause of autism in young children, but the medical director pointed out that there is no scientific evidence to support that theory.

“There’s really no evidence that this is harmful in any way, shape or form,” he said. “Quite honestly, you get more mercury eating fish.”

Although no scientific evidence has proved that thimerosal causes autism, the preservative was taken out of pediatric vaccines about five years ago, Venglarcik said.

“The fact of the matter is that since this has been taken out of all pediatric vaccines, there’s been no change in the instances of autism,” he said.

The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety supports Venglarcik’s stance. In 2006, the committee concluded that there was no scientific support for concerns about thimerosal. The committee was established by the World Health Organization to provide a scientific assessment of vaccine safety.

The mercury in thimerosal, according to the committee, is ethyl mercury, which stays in the blood for less than a week and is excreted. The more harmful methyl mercury stays in the blood for about a month and a half and accumulates in the body.

Terry Chapin, president of the local chapter of the Autism Society, said that he has seen anecdotal evidence of increases in autism rates, and if thimerasol was a cause, he would expect to see rates decrease.

“I’ve certainly seen enough e-mail correspondence and various articles that still are saying that it could have been a cause of autism,” Chapin said. “The concern that I have is that you have not seen a decrease in the rates of autism.”

Chapin said that a lot of current research has been done by companies with a stake in the argument. “I think there’s still a little bit more fact-finding that needs to be done to conclusively prove or disprove that one way or the other,” he added.

Venglarcik also said that the risk of getting the disease from the vaccine is “very small.”

The health department is trying to establish what is called “herd immunity,” Venglarcik said.

If the department can get about 80 percent of the population immunized, the vaccines tend to help eradicate the disease. This is the same tactic that was used to eliminate polio, Venglarcik said.

But the key is immunizing children, which “tend to be the vehicle to spread to a community,” Venglarcik said.

“It’s going to be critical that we get the kids. If we get the school-age population immunized, then we can start to get that barrier in the school system,” he said.

The vaccine will be available in a nasal spray form the third week in October, Venglarcik said, and the injectable vaccine will be available the fourth week of October. The department is working with local school districts to organize clinics to distribute the vaccine.