Aventis-Pasteur, County Chief Medical Officers Oppose Bill To Ban Mercury in Vaccines
Aventis-Pasteur and the California Conference of Local Health Officers, which represents the chief medical officers of the state's 58 counties, in the past week wrote separate letters to Assembly member Fran Pavley (D-Woodland Hills) to express their opposition to a bill she sponsored that would ban the use of thimerosal -- a preservative that is about 50% ethyl mercury -- in vaccines administered to pregnant women and children younger than age three, the Los Angeles Times reports (Levin, Los Angeles Times, 8/6). Under the bill, physicians would no longer administer vaccines that contain more than trace amounts of thimerosal to pregnant women and infants. The U.S. Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 began to advocate the elimination of thimerosal from vaccines because some infants who received them were exposed to mercury at levels that exceeded Environmental Protection Agency guidelines (California Healthline, 6/24). In recent years, vaccine manufacturers have voluntarily eliminated the preservative or reduced it to trace levels in routine pediatric vaccines. An Aventis influenza vaccine for children younger than age two "is the only major exception," and that vaccine is available with or without thimerosal, according to the Times.
Aventis' and the conference letters warned that the bill could lead to "dire consequences in the event of an influenza pandemic," the Times reports. In a statement sent to the Times, Aventis officials wrote that the bill would "curtail the access of Californians to needed vaccine and undermine public confidence in one of health care's most effective prevention tools." However, an Aventis spokesperson earlier this year stated that the company could manufacture "enough thimerosal-free vaccine to fill all orders, given sufficient notice," according to the Times. In addition, the bill, as amended, allows for the suspension of the ban on the preservative in the event of a public health emergency.
Dr. Scott Morrow, president of the conference, acknowledged that the group decided to oppose the bill after being contacted by Aventis officials. However, he said he was unaware at the time he signed the letter that the company had sought the group's assistance. He said, "It feels to me very disingenuous," but he added that the group has taken the correct position, "regardless of how it came to us" (Los Angeles Times, 8/6).