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Experts Warn Banning Thimerosal From Use In Vaccines Would Harm Immunization Campaigns In Developing World

“A group of prominent doctors and public health experts warns in articles to be published Monday in the journal Pediatrics that banning thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative in vaccines, would devastate public health efforts in developing countries,” the New York Times reports. “Representatives from governments around the world will meet in Geneva next month in a session convened by the United Nations Environmental Program to prepare a global treaty to reduce health hazards by banning certain products and processes that release mercury into the environment … [b]ut a proposal that the ban include thimerosal … has drawn strong criticism from pediatricians,” the newspaper writes (Tavernise, 12/17).

The compound, which prevents the growth of bacteria or fungi in multi-use vials of vaccines, is not used in the U.S., but “in countries with fewer resources — where many children still die of vaccine-preventable diseases — it’s cheaper and easier to use multi-dose vials of vaccines against diphtheria and tetanus, for example,” Reuters notes. “Earlier this year, the WHO said replacing thimerosal with an alternative preservative could affect vaccine safety and might cause some vaccines to become unavailable,” the news agency writes (Pittman, 12/17). “Advocacy groups have lobbied to include the substance in the ban, and some global health experts worry that because the government representatives due to vote next month are for the most part ministers of environment, not health, they may not appreciate the consequences of banning thimerosal in vaccines,” the New York Times states, noting, “The Pediatrics articles are timed to raise a warning before the meeting” (12/17).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.