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“The notion that there still are states that have a preference against thimerosal-containing vaccines on their books is outdated, archaic and certainly not supported by the science,” Offit said.