Williams / WFAA-TV Dallas
It's a question that has divided
doctors, parents and government scientists for more than a decade: Do childhood
vaccines or additives cause neurological damage?
Next month, a congressional
committee will hear testimony on the subject. A California university has a huge
government grant to research it.
And the possible link has been the
focus of a three-month News 8 Investigation.
At the center of the investigation:
a preservative put into many vaccines. It's called thimerosal, and it's made
from mercury, the second most toxic metal known to man. Uranium is the most
toxic. For years, thimerosal has been extremely controversial because there were
alternatives to preventing vaccine contamination. And, questions remain about
how pharmaceutical companies conduct vaccine research and how the government
regulates those companies.
Centuries ago, the shimmering
properties of mercury captivated the philosopher Aristotle, who called it
"quicksilver" - and the name stuck.
Starting in the early nineties,
government regulators dramatically increased the amount of Thimerosal exposure
to babies by adding two new vaccines to the roster of mandatory immunizations
children must have before enrolling in school.
The combination of the Hepatitis B
vaccine and the HiB vaccine more than doubled the amount of mercury children.
"If you take a ten-pound baby in, and it gets four shots on that one day,
which is a common practice - that's equivalent to giving a 100-pound person
forty shots in one day," said mercury expert Dr. Boyd Haley.
Haley has testified before Congress
and the Pentagon as one of the nation's leading experts on Thimerosal and
mercury poisoning. The research he's done at the University of Kentucky leads
him to believe that some children are genetically predisposed to storing mercury
in their brains.
It's the cumulative effect of the
mercury which Haley and other scientists say leads to neurological disorders,
Under pressure from the American
Academy of Pediatrics, these government committees ordered pharmaceutical
companies to stop putting thimerosal in vaccines by March 2001.
The FDA questioned thimerosal's
safety again in 1982 - this time, noting that it was "not safe for
'over-the-counter' topical use because of its potential for cell damage".
Despite that evidence, however, the government regulatory committees did nothing
to question its use in childhood vaccines.
Meanwhile, measures were taken to
remove the compound from pet inoculations. More internal company documents and
memos show that Eli Lilly began revising its claims about thimerosal starting in
the 1960s, changing package inserts from stating "non-toxic" to
"non-irritating to body to issue".
Then, in November 1973, the
company's legal division suggested adding the statement: "Do not use when
aluminum may come in contact with treated skin". Aluminum is a compound
added to many vaccines as a catalyst. But even with this warning, the government
committees did nothing.
Haley said any good biochemist
knows that thimerosal and aluminum react dangerously when combined together.
Officials at Eli Lilly declined to
interview with News 8. However, they did send an e-mail, which said in part that
the company's "primary concern is for patient safety". The e-mail also
stated "Lilly discontinued its sale or use of (thimerosal) about ten years
However, that did not stop other
pharmaceutical companies from taking over the production of the vaccine
In December 1999, shortly before
Eli Lilly quit producing thimerosal, the company changed its packaging insert
again. This time, Lilly warned that thimerosal was "toxic".
Additionally, it stated that effects of exposure may include "fetal
changes, decreased offspring survival, and lung tissue changes".
However, the government's vaccine
committee continues to insist that thimerosal has never been dangerous to
So, the 1999 Eli Lilly package
insert was shown to Dr. Jane Siegel for her reaction:
"I cannot comment on this
unless I have clarification," Siegel said. "You will have to interview
the public. I don't know - I just know that if you show me this piece of paper I
cannot make a comment on this - I find it uninterpretable."
Haley said the government should
have taken action.
should have been an immediate recall of the vaccine,"
Haley said. "We would do that with an automobile if it had a bad brake
system. If we just suspected it had a bad brake system, they would do that. The
government has no problems - they'd do it immediately."
The congressional hearing on the
use of thimerosal in vaccines begins in June. While production of the
preservative was stopped a year ago, as Dr. Haley pointed out, existing
doses were not recalled.
Now, it needs to be re-stated that
the easiest solution for parents who are concerned about upcoming immunizations
is to simply ask your doctor in advance for thimerosal-free vaccines.