Organic Consumers Association


Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!


Schwarzenegger Urged to Sign Bill Banning Hazardous Mercury-Tainted Vaccines for Children

Mercury-laced vaccines a danger to our children's health

San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 2004


Dan Hamburg

A commonsense bill to rid childhood vaccines of the mercury-laced
preservative thimerosal now sits on the governor's desk awaiting his
signature. While the bill appears to be a no-brainer, the pharmaceutical
industry and the state Department of Health Services are urging a veto.

Thimerosal, a preservative that is 49 percent ethyl mercury by weight, is
present in many vaccines today, and will be in most of the flu vaccines
given to babies, toddlers and pregnant women in 2005. Ethyl mercury, a
mercury compound, and thimerosal are known neurotoxins, considered by the
state of California as chemicals known to cause reproductive and
developmental harm.

Because of thimerosal's toxicity, the American Academy of Pediatrics and
the U.S. Public Health Service urged vaccine manufacturers in 1999 to
remove it from all regular childhood vaccines, and the vaccine
manufacturers appear to have done so. However, thimerosal is still added to
pediatric doses of flu vaccine. Next year, as many as 800,000 California
infants and toddlers could receive a mercury-containing flu shot because
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that all
children between the ages of 6 and 24 months receive flu vaccines.

It is common knowledge that mercury and ethyl mercury can damage developing
nervous systems in fetuses, infants and toddlers. The California
Environmental Protection Agency recently reported that the scientific
evidence that thimerosal causes reproductive and developmental toxicity is
"clear and voluminous." The U.S. House of Representatives' Government
Reform Committee found that "thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines
is likely related to the autism epidemic" and charged that the federal Food
and Drug Administration has been "asleep at the switch" with respect to
thimerosal. A 2003 study published in the Journal of American Physicians
and Surgeons found "strong epidemiological evidence for a link between
mercury exposure from thimerosal- containing childhood vaccines and
neurodevelopment disorders."

So why does the governor appear hesitant to sign AB2943, the Mercury-Free
Vaccine Act of 2004? Drug companies, led by the Bayer Corporation and
Aventis Pasteur, claim that the bill is unnecessary, that it may cause
thousands of children to contract influenza, that it will undermine public
confidence about vaccine safety and that it is too costly. Let's briefly
dispense with these specious arguments.

Despite the FDA's and the vaccine manufacturer's assurances, California
children are still receiving vaccines that contain mercury. As the U.S.
House committee pointed out, the FDA has never required industry to conduct
extensive safety studies on thimerosal. Vaccine manufacturers have the
capacity to produce sufficient doses of mercury-free flu vaccines by the
date the bill takes effect (July 2006). AB2943 will actually increase
public confidence in vaccine safety by giving parents certainty that their
infants and toddlers will not be injected with mercury. According to the
state Department of Finance, the bill would cost the state of California
$40,000 and save untold dollars by decreasing the possibility that
California's children develop autism and related disorders.

Between late 1999 and late 2002, thimerosal was removed from most childhood
vaccines. Because of this, California now has a population of children
nearing age 3 and 4 who received a significantly lower dose of mercury than
children born before 2000. Preliminary studies show that the rate of
increase in the number of children over age 3 with autism has been in
decline for nine months now. This is the first time autism rates have
fallen in the entire 35 years California has been collecting this data in
the Department of Developmental Services.

Perhaps the reason that the drug companies want thimerosal-containing
vaccines to be used up rather than destroyed has more to do with potential
legal liability than it does with safety. More than 5,000 American families
are seeking compensation in the U.S. Court of Claims for damage to their
children allegedly caused by mercury-containing vaccines. If drug companies
are found to have knowingly participated in risking the health of our
children, these parents could become just the head of the line and damage
awards could reach into the billions.

The question is: Will Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger listen to the well-
founded concerns of thousands of parents with developmentally disabled
children? Or will he bend to the powerful pharmaceutical lobby? This is an
opportunity for the governor to prove that he's a real hero, not just
acting. Parents for generations to come will thank him for his leadership.

Dan Hamburg, a former U.S. representative from Northern California, is
executive director of Voice of the Environment
(, a nonprofit based in Marin.