Last week, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the World Mercury Project, orchestrated a major publicity stunt designed to question the safety of vaccines. Since he had no real evidence to present, and the same accusations which have been repeatedly refuted for years, he attempted to garner attention by offering journalists a glimpse at a new anti-vaccine celebrity and the promise of a $100,000 challenge.
During an hour-long press event on Wednesday, Kennedy was joined by other vaccine critics such as ‘Vaxxed’ movie producer Del BigTree, San Antonio District Attorney Nico LaHood, Tony Muhammed of the Nation of Islam and celebrity actor, filmmaker and father of an autistic child, Robert DeNiro.
While each had their turn to suggest there was a worldwide scientific conspiracy to lie about vaccine safety, Kennedy concluded by announcing that he would give a $100,000 award to any American journalist who could produce a study that proved that the level of thimerosal used in vaccines was deemed to be safe.
(Of course, since he failed to mention the fee required to participate in the challenge, made no reference to a scientific expert(s) who would assist in evaluating the science, and refused to accept the mountains of studies that already exist on the subject, his promise of a payout was seen by many as an elaborate publicity scam.)
On Thursday, Kennedy continued his crusade on Capitol Hill by renting out a Congressional briefing room and attempting to lure legislators with the involvement of celebrity Robert DeNiro. While staunch vaccine refusers were invigorated by these meetings, hanging on the hope that Kennedy could possibly make inroads with the current administration and put an end to vaccine injury once and for all, the reality is that hardly anyone was listening.
With about 40 people in attendance on Wednesday, and not one member of Congress showing up on Thursday, it’s safe to say that Kennedy’s message is only echoing among those who already support him. Even DeNiro appeared to have lost interest since he was notably absent from Thursday’s event on Capitol Hill.
As expected, there have already been dozens of commentary that address Kennedy’s misinformation. However, there is still one statement he made that I feel the need to address.
Kennedy claimed, “I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-safe vaccines.”
It’s understandable for people to say,“Yes, I vaccinate, but I don’t feel completely certain that vaccines are safe.” Since we’re unable to guarantee that vaccines will be 100% safe, this “pro-safe vaccine” battle cry is an effective way to appeal to parents who don’t have the time, the understanding or the inclination to delve into the science that supports the widespread use of vaccines.
By using this “pro-safe vaccine” label, Kennedy and others like him play into the emotional need of parents to protect their children while dangerously misleading them into thinking that vaccines are far more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. In essence, this statement is used to help anti-vaccine crusaders turn vaccine safety into a personal and anecdotal issue, when we should all be demanding that vaccine safety be investigated and addressed with scientific objectivity.
Kennedy continues to try to discredit his critics by questioning, “Why wouldn’t anyone be agreeable to studying vaccine safety?” He seems to suggest that anyone who isn’t “with” him in arguing that vaccines aren’t safe, is simply against safe vaccines.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Vaccine experts ARE agreeable to studying vaccine safety. In fact, that is largely what they do. But unlike Kennedy, they don’t rely on anecdotal evidence. They demand scientific evidence and they go to great lengths to get it.
If we were to go back in history, we would see plenty of examples of how our current vaccine safety protocols have successfully identified problems and taken steps to address them. Consider the history of the rotavirus vaccine. The vaccine was withdrawn in 1999 after scientists associated it with a rare intestinal problem called intussusception. This would not have been identified if it weren’t for the vaccine safety monitoring systems that we currently have in place. And what about the nasal spry flu vaccine which was pulled just prior to this flu season? The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) decided not to recommend the vaccine based on low efficacy studies, especially among children. Again, an example of action taken by one of our current vaccine oversight committees. There are plenty of other examples of vaccines being pulled from the market – the whole cell pertussis vaccine (DTP), Lyme vaccine, and oral polio to name a few. These instances occurred because of the vaccine safety protocols in place. Read more…
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.
Amy Pisani, Executive Director of Every Child By Two, offers insight on an important global decision regarding thimerosal in vaccines.
Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics is supporting the World Health Organization’s position to continue to use the preservative thimerosal to vaccinate children in developing nations.
As our readers are most likely aware, thimerosal was removed from the majority of vaccines provided to infants and children in the U.S. due to concerns that this mercury-based preservative could cause detrimental effects. So why would the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) support the continued use of thimerosal in foreign countries? The simple answer is that thimerosal is a safe and necessary component of vaccines and that millions of lives would be lost if efforts to ban it globally were to succeed. But the story behind the decision is not as simple.
Thimerosal…what is it, and how did that one word spread havoc in the hearts of a nation at the outset of the new millennium?
Thimerosal is an ethyl mercury based preservative that prevents the growth of bacteria and fungi. The preservative was included in all multi-dose vials of vaccines to eliminate the chances of contamination, which could occur as syringe needles are reinserted into multi-dose vials. This contamination has the potential to cause severe reactions at the site of the injections, as well as serious illness and even death, hence the need for a stable preservative in the vials.
Up until the late 1990s many of the vaccines used in the U.S were in multi-dose vials and therefore included thimerosal. The Food and Drug Modernization Act of 1997 required that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review mercury content in all biological products. The review noted that the cumulative amounts of ethyl mercury found in the vaccine series given to young infants could potentially exceed the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines. It is important to note that the EPA’s standards were stricter than those of the FDA or the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (TSDR). Vaccines did not surpass the levels set forth by either the FDA or TSDR.
In response to the EPA findings, the AAP and US Public Health Service (USPHS) called for the elimination of mercury in vaccines as a precautionary measure. Manufacturers responded by altering production procedures to create single dose vials of those vaccines that were formerly stored in multi-dose vials. The only vaccine for children that currently contains thimerosal are some doses of influenza vaccination – a necessary decision due to the need to rapidly disseminate vaccines, particularly in face of serious pandemics of influenza. Most people are unaware that several vaccines, including MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, never contained thimerosal in the first place.
As it turns out, the EPA standards were set for methyl mercury, commonly found in fish and wildlife, which are themselves contaminated through environmental mercury pollution. Methyl mercury, which accumulates in the body at least seven times longer than ethyl mercury, has been proven to cause adverse neurodevelopmental effects.
What we have learned.
In the time since the decision was made to remove thimerosal from vaccines, numerous studies have been conducted worldwide to determine the effects of thimerosal on infants and children. These studies have found no evidence that the preservative causes harm to infants or children. Special attention has been focused on the question of whether the removal of thimerosal from vaccines would result in a rapid decline in autism cases. This was not the case; even with the decline in use of thimerosal containing vaccines, autism rates continued to climb.
It was hoped that by clarifying the difference between methyl and ethyl-mercury, the lack of that one letter “m” in front of the word describing a dangerous compound, the fears of a nation would be alleviated…no such luck! Read more…