Thimerosal-Free Vaccines May Not Work as Well: UK
Tue January 14, 2003 02:49 PM ET
By Richard Woodman
LONDON (Reuters Health) - Britain's Department of Health on
Tuesday backed continued use of thimerosal-containing vaccines,
saying there was no evidence they harmed children and warning that
alternative vaccines without the mercury-based preservative were
In a statement following calls for older
diptheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccines to be withdrawn amid
fears of autism, the department said recent reviews by the UK
Committee on the Safety of Medicines and the US Institute of
Medicine had found no evidence that low doses of thimerosal had any
effect on childhood development.
"Until an equally effective non-thimerosal-containing DTP vaccine
is licensed here, the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination
and Immunisation is that wholecell DTP--which contains
thimerosal--should continue to be used."
Thimerosal has been used for over 60 years to prevent microbial
contamination or as an inactivating agent to produce killed
vaccines, but parents and some scientists are worried that its use
may account at least in part for the rise in reported cases of
Last Friday, it was announced in the US Senate that a provision
blocking US lawsuits by families who blame their children's autism
on thimerosal would be repealed, paving the way for litigation
against manufacturers such as Eli Lilly and Co. who deny liability.
The American development appears to have prompted renewed calls
in Britain for a ban on all mercury-containing medicines by pressure
groups such as Action Against Autism, who have warned that if the
authorities were aware that the old vaccines posed a danger to
public health, they could be charged with criminal medical
In its response, the department said it had been advised by the
CSM that there was "no evidence of harm caused by doses of
thimerosal in vaccines, except for hypersensitivity reactions."
The statement added: "The view of the (UK) Joint Committee on
Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is that the currently available
UK licensed DTaP vaccines (which don't contain thimerosal) do not
offer the overall protection that DTwP (containing thimerosal) does
and thus, having seen all the evidence, JCVI has not recommended as
yet a move to routine use of DTaP."
The department noted that vaccine manufacturers were developing
research programs to replace or reduce the level of thimerosal used
in vaccines in accordance with European guidelines, but said this
"may take time because manufacturers are required to ensure that the
replacement or elimination of thimerosal does not affect the safety
or efficacy of the final vaccine."