Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Our Friend Mercury 

On the heels of the news that Merck & Co. scuttled a clinical trial that might have revealed the hazards of Vioxx comes the following, courtesy of a leaked internal memo:
A memo from Merck & Co. shows that, nearly a decade before the first public disclosure, senior executives were concerned that infants were getting an elevated dose of mercury in vaccinations containing a widely used sterilizing agent.

The March 1991 memo, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, said 6-month-old children who received their shots on schedule would get a mercury dose as much as 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish.

"When viewed in this way, the mercury load appears rather large," Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman, an internationally renowned vaccinologist, wrote in a memo to the president of Merck's vaccine division.

The memo was prepared as U.S. health authorities aggressively were expanding their immunization schedule by adding five new shots for children in their first six months. Many of these shots, as well as some previously included on the schedule, contained thimerosal, an anti-bacterial compound that is nearly 50 percent ethyl mercury, a neurotoxin . . . .

More than 4,200 claims have been filed in a special federal tribunal, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, by parents asserting that their children suffered autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders from mercury in vaccines. A handful of similar claims are awaiting trial in civil courts . . . .

For their part, Merck and other vaccine makers, along with many health officials and scientists, say there is no credible evidence of harm from the amounts of mercury once widely present in kids' shots. They cite a report in May by a committee of the national Institute of Medicine concluding that the evidence "favors rejection of a causal relationship" between vaccines and autism.
Now read M.B. Williams of Wampum on the NYT's coverage of new claims in autism research.

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