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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Vaccines for children shouldn't include mercury

By Tonya Douce
Virginia Daily Press

On June 15, the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church - the largest conference in United Methodism with almost 350,000 members - overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling upon our government to protect children from mercury-containing vaccines and drugs.

Seven days before, my 4-month old son, Elijah, received a series of vaccines - vaccines that are mandatory if he is to attend public school. As I held his little hand in mine, I never even thought about the safety of the vaccines he received. Only later did I learn that some childhood vaccines, particularly the influenza vaccine, contain Thimerosal, a preservative that is almost 50 percent mercury by weight.

Mercury in vaccines is an antiquated idea. To a nonmedical person like myself, mercury in vaccines seems as inadvisable as lead in paint or leaches for the treatment of fever. And yet, (Thimerosal, which is 49.6 percent mercury by weight) is still in the meningitis vaccines, the flu shot and the tetanus booster in this nation and is even more commonplace in American-made vaccines which we send to developing nations around the world. When I was pregnant with my son, I followed the EPA warnings and limited my own intake of fish that contained high levels of mercury. Why, then, are we still injecting levels of mercury that exceed the EPA's published guidelines into our children as part of approved childhood vaccines?

Even after learning that mercury is present in a limited number of childhood vaccines, I still believe that vaccines are wonderful and necessary tools in our medical arsenal. Vaccines have done a remarkable job to improve global health by preventing, and eventually eradicating, many deadly diseases. But since June, I have come to realize that mercury in vaccines can endanger the fragile and developing nervous system of children and infants.

There is no doubt that mercury is a neurotoxin and that safe and effective alternatives exist for preserving and sterilizing vaccines. Critics say that there is no undeniable proof that vaccines containing mercury cause neurological damage. I say that lack of proof is the result of lack of study. Critics say that the use of Thimerosal allows drug manufacturers to keep vaccinations affordable. I say that the use of Thimerosal allows drug manufacturers to increase their profit margin while placing children at risk. If a drug inflicts neurological damage on even one child, then that drug is no bargain at all. Thimerosal-free vaccines are already available and will only become more affordable if government regulations and the public demand safe vaccines.

My son, Elijah, is now 6 months old. Last week I took him to his pediatrician, and he received a series of vaccinations while I again held his tiny, little hand. Before he received one shot, however, I discussed my concerns about Thimerosal with my son's pediatrician. Confident that she will adhere to my request that my son receive only Thimerosal-free vaccines, I allowed Elijah to be vaccinated. With knowledge as my weapon, I feel confident that my son can be vaccinated without falling victim to any adverse neurological effects from mercury-containing vaccines.

However, as a concerned citizen and as a person of faith, I believe that my duty is not only to my own child. I also have a responsibility and an obligation to the other children of our world. I worry about the parents who do not have the knowledge or the opportunity of informed consent which would enable them to request Thimerosal-free vaccines for their children. I worry about the millions of other children around the world who receive mercury-containing vaccines that come from American drug manufacturers.

I want to trust that vaccines are safe, for I believe that vaccines are extremely important. However, I cannot fully place my trust in vaccines while they are tainted with a life-threatening neurotoxin. Only when the use of Thimerosal is banned will I be able to fully trust that vaccines are safe and effective again.

The adverse effects of Thimerosal on the fragile nervous system of developing infants and children may not yet be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. But whenever one injects a known poison into a child, there is a great level of risk. As a mother who is concerned about the needs of all God's children, that risk is one that I am not willing to take - not for my child nor for anyone else's.

Douce, of Lawrenceville, is a United Methodist pastor in Brunswick County, Va.

Posted by Becca

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