Representatives of 22 medical organizations have written to all members of Congress opposing efforts to ban the mercury-based preservative thimerosal from vaccines.
"Our organizations respectfully wish to state our opposition to all legislative efforts at the federal and state levels to restrict access to vaccines containing thimerosal, an ethylmercury-based preservative," said the letter dated Monday from "Multiple National Organizations that Support Safe and Effective Vaccines."
The groups said that banning the preservative in vaccines for children and pregnant women -- as several states have done and legislation in Congress proposes -- would "perpetuate false and misleading information that vaccines are not safe. Parents may see the banning of thimerosal as an admission that vaccine safety oversight is inadequate."
In fact, the letter said, "There has been considerable research on this issue since the 1999 precautionary statement of the U.S. Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics and there is no documented scientific evidence that ethylmercury in the form of thimerosal in the doses administered in vaccines causes any risk to health."
The letter also cited concerns that bans could trigger "ongoing vaccine shortages or inability to deliver care. ... Limit the nation's inability to quickly administer influenza vaccine in the U.S. when a pandemic strikes. ... Lead to increased costs for vaccines. ... Add more complexity to our present vaccine delivery system. ... Profoundly affect global immunization programs, as do many U.S. vaccine policy decision."
Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., sponsor of a House bill to ban thimerosal from vaccines, said the letter would not deter his efforts.
"It is warped logic to suggest that somehow public confidence is reassured
by keeping mercury in vaccines," Weldon told United Press International on Tuesday. "Buying into this logic will only further erode public confidence in vaccines. It's time to kick the mercury habit."
Also Tuesday, proponents of banning thimerosal fired back in their own letter to Congress, noting that they plan to be in Washington Thursday for an anti-mercury march and lobbying on Capitol Hill. They believe the medical groups' statement is intended to pre-empt that effort.
According to a statement from the National Autism Association:
"We feel legislation specifically delineating the removal of thimerosal (ethyl mercury) from vaccines is necessary in an effort to restore public confidence in vaccines and to prevent the potential for injury in our most vulnerable citizens; the fetus, infants and children. We base our concerns with the policy of exposing pregnant women and children to ethyl mercury on scientific facts and current policy."
At issue are concerns raised by parents and some scientists that increasing exposure to thimerosal in childhood vaccines during the 1990s may have triggered a huge rise in autism diagnoses. In 1999 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others recommended manufacturers phase out thimerosal as soon as possible to limit exposure.
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies said it found no connection and that future research should go to "more promising" areas.
Yet concerns have persisted, in part because some flu vaccines still contain thimerosal, and the CDC has recommended the vaccines for all pregnant women and for children ages 6 months to 5 years.
Those concerns have prompted several states -- including New York, Illinois, California, Iowa, Delaware and most recently Washington state -- to enact bans over the opposition of the CDC and state medical associations.
At the same time, pressure has mounted for more studies of potential health problems of thimerosal and vaccines in general. Last week U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said she will introduce a bill this month to force the federal government to study the autism rate in never-vaccinated American children.
In a letter to Congressional health policy staff that accompanied the groups' statement opposing a thimerosal ban, Diane C. Peterson of the Immunization Action Coalition said: "As you may be aware, recent media attention has been given to the role of thimerosal in vaccines and the development of autism. The 22 national organizations that have signed this letter, as well as many others, stand behind the enormous amount of scientific evidence that shows no link exists between thimerosal in vaccines and the development of autism.
"Please oppose all anti-thimerosal legislative proposals and help further (the) nation's work in protecting children and adults against vaccine-preventable diseases."
The signers include representatives of the following groups:
Ambulatory Pediatric Association; American Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Physician Assistants; American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology; American College of Preventive Medicine; American Liver Foundation; American Medical Directors Association; American Pharmacists Association; Association of Immunization Program Managers; Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists; Every Child by Two; Hepatitis B Foundation; Hepatitis Foundation International; Immunization Action Coalition; Infectious Diseases Society of America; National Coalition on Adult Immunization; National Foundation for Infectious Diseases; Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases; Pediatric Infectious Disease Society; Society for Adolescent Medicine; Society of Teachers of Family Medicine; Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.