Decision Made: No Global Ban on Thimerosal
Last month, I wrote about a proposal, brought about by the United Nations Environment Programme, to restrict the worldwide use of mercury in an effort to limit mercury releases, protect human health and preserve the environment. Unfortunately, the proposal included a restriction on the trade of mercury-added products, to include any and all vaccines that contain the ethylmercury-containing preservative thimerosal.
The scientific and medical community were quite concerned about the implications of such a decision. Thimerosal has not only been determined to be safe, posing no human health risk, but it is also used as a preservative to prevent contamination of multidose vials of vaccines predominantly used to distribute vaccines to the most disadvantaged children throughout the world. By baning thimerosal and disrupting critical vaccination programs, millions of the world’s poorest children would no longer have access to vaccines and would remain at great risk of many deadly diseases. A recent NY Times article that detailed the concerns of this treaty suggested that in 2010 alone, more than 1.4 million child deaths were prevented through thimerosal containing vaccines. This is why the global immunization community agreed; a proposed global ban on mercury, that includes thimerosal, would be a tragedy.
Today, I am happy to share the news that a landmark decision was made by the UNEP this past weekend which will protect access to thimerosal-containing vaccines. A treaty annex, that specifies which products are excluded from the treaty, will protect “vaccines containing thimerosal as preservatives”.
There is no doubt that this favorable decision came as a result of the cooperation of various organizations within the global immunization community, to include WHO, UNICEF, GAVI, PATH and many immunization advocates and experts all around the world. In a recent communication by PATH Policy Officer Erin Fry Sosne, these critical partnerships were acknowledged and applauded.
“By facilitating communication between ministries of health and ministries of environment, strong statements were made by delegates about the essential role of thimerosal-containing vaccines in protecting human health.”
As both a parent and a Shot@Life champion, I’m grateful to know that global immunization programs will not be interrupted and will continue in their efforts to save the lives of millions of children year after year.