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Medicine Science

Proposed Mercury Ban Threatens Vaccines 383

Posted by Soulskill
from the ban-venus-too dept.
T Murphy writes "Although in the draft stages, a treaty being pushed by the United Nations Environment Programme has a blanket ban on mercury. While the ban would stop the use of mercury in paints or pesticides, it currently has no exemptions to allow for other small uses, such as in thermisol, which is used as a preservative in vaccines. The next meeting to discuss this treaty will be at the end of October."
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Proposed Mercury Ban Threatens Vaccines

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  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Friday October 21, 2011 @10:59AM (#37792398) Journal

    Does anyone really believe that the final draft would include a total ban, even for vaccines? I didn't think so. Sounds like more hype than fact, and an article for the sake of having an article on the part of the Chicago Tribune.

    • Like saying chlorine is poisonous so it should be banned and then cracking down on the importation of salt; this treaty shows a profound lack of chemistry and biology education.

      • by Stumbles (602007)
        No its not like that at all. You cannot have salt without chlorine but you CAN have a vaccine without mercury.
        • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday October 21, 2011 @11:47AM (#37793422)

          The point, which I thought was obvious, is that the chlorine is salt is not toxic. Similar to how the mercury in vaccines is not toxic. It is silly to try to extrapolate the chemical behavior of a molecule based on the behavior of the elements that make it up. Otherwise we could all breath water (plenty of oxygen in there right?) or use it to inflate a blimp (with all that hydrogen). Not to mention the fact that even if the mercury in vaccines were bioavailable and had a long half life, the amounts we are talking about are so tiny that you can easily ingest more mercury from a can of tuna than from a years worth of vaccines.

          • by makomk (752139)

            The form of mercury in vaccines is actually known to be toxic in humans -fatally so in some cases [nih.gov] - it's just not dangerous in the amounts contained in vaccines. Well, probably not anyway.

      • by NFN_NLN (633283)

        Like saying chlorine is poisonous so it should be banned and then cracking down on the importation of salt; this treaty shows a profound lack of chemistry and biology education.

        Think of the most absurd and ridiculous proposal you can... and an American politician has probably already proposed it:

        "New York restaurants face salt ban in new health bill... causing chefs' blood pressure to soar"

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1257414/New-York-restaurants-face-salt-ban-new-health--causing-chefs-blood-pressure-soar.html [dailymail.co.uk]

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          Like saying chlorine is poisonous so it should be banned and then cracking down on the importation of salt; this treaty shows a profound lack of chemistry and biology education.

          Think of the most absurd and ridiculous proposal you can... and an American politician has probably already proposed it:

          "New York restaurants face salt ban in new health bill... causing chefs' blood pressure to soar"

          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1257414/New-York-restaurants-face-salt-ban-new-health--causing-chefs-blood-pressure-soar.html [dailymail.co.uk]

          I think the ban is on Sodium Chloride - try cooking with Sea salt.

          Meanwhile, I'd like a ban on Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in restaurants - too many apply the "Essence of Flavor" with a tablespoon (and often will lie about using it at all, when asked) and what MSG does is modify your body chemistry to register flavors more strongly - if that isn't unethical then I give up.

    • These are politicians. I had all optimism for intelligent thought from politicians slowly drained away since 2000. I wouldn't be surprised at this point if the final draft included a total ban on dihydrodren monoxide.

      • I had all optimism for intelligent thought from politicians slowly drained away since 2000.

        You realize they are not actually stupid, right? They just don't give a shit about you or yours. They are more successful than you. They are more powerful than you. They can fuck with your life anytime they want. They get money and whores and favors left and right. Hell, they probably *love* the idea you just consider them stupid.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        These are politicians. I had all optimism for intelligent thought from politicians slowly drained away since 2000. I wouldn't be surprised at this point if the final draft included a total ban on dihydrodren monoxide.

        Yeah, once some area of American industry is threatened with Change they rally their guard dogs in government to obstruct the scary monster.

        That in itself is tragic, because it ensures innovation will not happen in America, but elsewhere. It's entrenching and backward thinking protectionism at its ugliest.

    • It's evil, it must be banned, period. These are idealist politicians we're talking about, reality need not apply.

      It's just like the landmine ban, no exceptions, even for cases when the reasons for the ban don't apply (which is the reason the US didn't sign).

    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      The article mentions that thiomersal (I really got that word wrong in the summary) is no longer used in children's vaccines in US/Canada, and has similar resistance in Scandanavia. While I doubt thiomersal will end up being banned here, given precedent it can't be ruled out.
  • Last I read it was being phased out in favor of other preservatives that lacked mercury.

    • by mark_reh (2015546)

      I think you mean Thiomersal...

    • by ElmoGonzo (627753)
      T-H-I-M-E-R-O-S-A-L is the way it is spelled on the vaccination form where it asks "Are you allergic to Thimerosal (used as a preservative in vaccines)?"
    • by fruitbane (454488)

      Is it commonly called thimerosal in the US, FYI. I think in many cases it is being phased out (though not because there is any scientific evidence that it is harmful), but there are some vaccines for which thimerosal is simply better suited. A blanket ban which prohibits use of thimerosal could slow or halt production of some vaccines until an alternative is found, and the alternative may be less efficacious or less safe, and if it raises the costs in the process it could slow critical vaccinations, especia

      • Thimerosal has already been phased out or banned outright in most of the world. In Russia, they found direct links to increased rates of serious mental health issues and instituted a strict ban on the stuff. The only people that really want to keep using the stuff is the vaccine companies because it's cheap and they make more money using it. And since the same guys who run those companies also sit on the board of the CDC, you can imagine why the CDC finds no issue with it.
        • Thimerosal has already been phased out or banned outright in most of the world. In Russia, they found direct links to increased rates of serious mental health issues and instituted a strict ban on the stuff.

          If that were true, one would suspect that we would see a similar problem in the US since Thiomersal has been used for decades. We should see increasing amounts of mental illness, stupidity and general batshit craziness.

          Oh, wait ....

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      In the U.S., among common vaccines, it's only present in one of the forms of flu vaccine.

      • by bkaul01 (619795)
        That's true of vaccines intended for children under the age of 6. It is still used in a variety of other vaccines that aren't part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule, though.
  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Friday October 21, 2011 @11:00AM (#37792410)
    Once this ban passes, then all new diagnoses of autism should stop, right?
    • by j-turkey (187775)
      Yes, because this ban will conclusively prove that correlation equals causation. :)
      • by necro81 (917438)
        The (erroneous, and much disproved) argument made by the anti-vaccine crowd is, explicitly, that the thimerosal causes autism. Theirs is a causal hypothesis. Eliminating the cause and getting the negative result would disprove the hypothesis.
    • by fruitbane (454488)

      Thimerosal use in vaccines is already down quite a bit and yet autism cases have not dropped correspondingly. Autism diagnoses continue to increase, even as we use less mercury and fewer heavy metals in products aimed at sensitive populations (at least here in the US and other developed nations).

    • However as the autism rate drops by a fraction of a percent. There seems to be a 20% increase in deaths due to children dying of viruses.
      The greater good be damn! I don't care how many kids die from preventable virus I don't want the shame of my child being autistic.

      • by firex726 (1188453)

        Hasn't the CDC declared an epidemic of whopping cough in southern California?

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday October 21, 2011 @12:08PM (#37793772) Homepage

          Yes, in older kids. The pertussis (whooping cough) component of childhood vaccines wears off after a while (and was never 100% to begin with). This, combined with increasing numbers of non immunized children and the fact that the CDC gets wound up about pertussis* makes outbreaks fairly common.

          Fun fact: the newer tetanus vaccines have pertussis vaccine in them so adults might quit being the reservoir of the disease. It tends to cause a much milder illness in adults so they don't get treated and it can be contagious for weeks.

          *Because it's treatable and highly contagious and fairly dangerous to infants.

        • by SETIGuy (33768) *
          They've got a mumps epidemic in northern California, too.
  • The actual concerns (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday October 21, 2011 @11:02AM (#37792472) Homepage
    Mercury has been phased out of most vaccines. This was done in the late 1990s in response to concerns that the mercury was somehow causing autism in children. Note that this had no impact on autism rates so the anti-vaxxers then switched to talking about ambiguous toxins. Thiomersol is still used in some vaccines but it is only a small fraction of vaccines, such as some versions of the flu vaccine. If necessary that can be easily replaced. It would be stupid because the mercury levels are tiny but it wouldn't have much of an impact. I'm more concerned that this sort of blanket ban would inadvertently impact smaller uses where mercury is really necessary for specialized uses in other areas. The ban also doesn't seem to address the differences between organic and inorganic mercury which have wildly different chemical properties in practice.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      I think it's only being phased out in wealthy, first-world countries that can deal with the reduced shelf-life of non Thiomersol preserved vaccines.

    • Wildly different biological properties as well (although that's arguably redundant). The mercury in vaccines isn't bioavailable in any significant way so the body doesn't absorb it like it does atomic mercury. Even more importantly, it doesn't accumulate in the body the way atomic mercury does, any damage the tiny amount of mercury would do is limited to the one or two days it's in your system before it is passed out. Compared to atomic mercury which accumulates so much so that it will literally turn you

  • Summmary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Friday October 21, 2011 @11:04AM (#37792504)

    To summarize: A draft treaty (with only 2 of 5 planned meetings to draft the treaty having been completed) and not expected to become final for 2 years, is not complete. Is there any reason to believe that the exception for vaccine preservatives won't be present in the final treaty?

  • Just got my flu shot yesterday, and this year they were using thimerosol-free shots exclusively, whereas in past years I had to specifically ask for one. I'm sure there would be other vax that need it, but reducing it's use whenever possible is a step in the right direction.

    • by fruitbane (454488)

      Thimerosal is used in such low doses that it won't make any difference, really. That and thimerosal is a pretty safe form of mercury, as far as the human body is concerned. As long as there are safe and effective alternatives I support, generally speaking, reductions in use of thimerosal, but if the replacements are less effective and harm the efficacy and affordability of vaccines I say don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Not really. A flu shot with Thimerosal is worth something like a few meals' worth of tuna. (I think it uses up a week's worth of mercury exposure limit.) A flu shot without Thimerosal is not only more difficult to store and transport, it's more likely to fail to give you resistance to the flu.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        Nope. It's not only about how many atoms of mercury do you eat, it's also about what substance are those atoms in. Tuna has elemental (atomic) mercury and compounds that are easily bioavailable: the body will get the mercury out of them, and that's what counts in exposure limits. Non-bioavailable mercury, like in thiomersal, is not included in those limits -- there's no mechanism in our body to break down thiomersal to get at the mercury. If the mercury is bound and cannot participate in our biochemistry, i

        • by blueg3 (192743)

          Your general point is true, but your information about tuna and thimerosal is false. The mercury in tuna is methyl mercury, which is one of the less-pleasant organic mercuries. Organic mercury is quite bad compared to elemental mercury. The mercury exposure limits I'm referring to are actually for methyl mercury, since it's the common and dangerous organic mercury. Thimerosal breaks down in the body to ethyl mercury. There are not sufficient studies on ethyl mercury to determine its impact, but the rule of

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      If you go to your doctor, you will get a thimerosal free shot. If you go to a clinic for flu shots, you won't unless you are pregnant. Without thimerosal, each vial can only be used once, just like other vaccines. Thimerosal enables multi-use vials, where 10 shots can be given from one vial. Obviously, like many products, packaging costs come into play. The single shot vial and the 10 shot vial are the same size and contain the same amount of vaccine. The difference is one can be used 10 times the oth

  • But Thiomerasal is non-bio accumulative!
    Why would you not leave it the fuck alone.

  • by RapidEye (322253) on Friday October 21, 2011 @11:04AM (#37792516) Homepage

    I've worked at a vaccines manufacturing site for a dozen years now and have helped produce hundreds of millions of doses of pediatric vaccines - I've never seen a milligram of thimerosal at our plant or any other in our supply chain. Most current technology manufacturing plants stopped using it decades ago and this really is only an issue for old facilities making old vaccines that they can't relicense using new technology.

    Technologies like single dose syringes and barrier/isolator filling lines have made preservatives largely unnecessary and even for those that still use them, there are better choices like EDTA.

  • Unfortunately saying the United Nations has become a useless body is an incorrect statement. The United Nations has become a harmful body that is being used as a puppet for ridiculous ideas. The entire thing should be disbanded.
  • Given that thimerosal (thiomersal) vaccine formulations are time-tested and, by now, relatively affordable to produce, a ban on thimerosal would probably most hurt poor nations. Here in the US we don't use it much, despite the fact that it has been demonstrated time and again to be relatively safe, but in poorer nations thimerosal formulations may be able to be produced more cheaply than alternatives and can be stored and distributed more easily, especially in/to more remote areas. The US and Europe will li

  • No, this law would not threaten vaccines it would help them immensely.
    Mercury is only used as a preservative in vaccines, they can make them without it (either on the spot for use right away [most vaccines are used on mass in a short period of time anyways] or with a safer preservative).
    The mercury is basically the entire reason for all the anti vaccine stuff in the first place, this would solve all of that and also have the benefit of keeping tons and tons of mercury out of the already saturated bodies of

    • by compro01 (777531)

      1. Yes, they can, but other available preservatives reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. Not using a preservative is fine when you can either refrigerate stuff or use single-dose vials, which is considerably less than practical when you're doing vaccinations in 3rd world countries.

      2. Hahaha. We stopped using thimerosal in practically all vaccines (some flu, tetanus, and diphtheria vaccines still use it) years ago, due to the above problems being surmountable in first world countries. Lo and behold, t

  • by DrXym (126579) on Friday October 21, 2011 @11:20AM (#37792852)
    Some vaccines contain thiomersal, a compound of mercury. And in such miniscule amounts it doesn't harm anyone beyond some localized redness. Many vaccines are phasing it out, not because it causes harm but because it's talking point for antivaxxer loons. Of course when thiomersal goes these loons will be screeching about the miniscule traces of formaldehyde or detergents that vaccines also contain.
  • How Is This Bad? (Score:5, Informative)

    by shambalagoon (714768) on Friday October 21, 2011 @11:23AM (#37792920) Homepage
    There is no safe amount of mercury exposure. It is a potent neurotoxin. This is a great treaty and I hope it succeeds. We're smart enough to find other ways of accomplishing what we need. Under pressure from autism-related claims, it was replaced by something safer in vaccines. Digital thermometers take temperature without using mercury. Fluorescent lights will soon be replaced with LEDs.

    There's a lot of crazy people in the world. Every little thing we can do to remove neurotoxins from the environment is a good step.

    Next: do the same thing with lead. I'm sick of seeing it in all my christmas light plastics.
    • There is no safe amount of mercury exposure. It is a potent neurotoxin.

      Many food types including fish contain mercury. Are you saying that eating fish is not safe?

      There's a lot of crazy people in the world.

      Such hyperbole only serves to add to the craziness in the world.

    • by tirerim (1108567)
      No safe amount? Then I guess we're all screwed, because there will always be microscopic traces of mercury in the environment. Unless you stop eating entirely, you're probably going to be ingesting at least a few atoms of it on a regular basis. Same with uranium, arsenic, and any number of other toxic elements.
  • We just removed regulations preventing cement factories from spewing mercury into the air, I doubt this congres will let the UN attack the "job creators" profits.
  • While everybody has latched on to the use of mercury in some vaccines, what about the mercury amalgam used in most dental work? Like the vaccine mercury, it is not harmful to the patient, but it would be difficult to make amalgam fillings with out it.

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