Sponsor Makes Changes to Bill To Ban Mercury in Vaccines
Assembly member Fran Pavley (D-Woodland Hills) in a "last-minute push" to gain legislative approval this week made changes to a bill (AB 2943) that would ban pregnant women and children from receiving vaccines that contain a preservative made with ethyl mercury, the Contra Costa Times reports (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 8/19).
The bill would ban physicians from administering vaccines that contain more than trace amounts of thimerosal -- a preservative that is about 50% ethyl mercury -- 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. In recent years, vaccine manufacturers voluntarily have eliminated the preservative or reduced it to trace levels in routine pediatric vaccines.
Aventis-Pasteur and the California Conference of Local Health Officers, which represents the chief medical officers of the state's 58 counties, oppose the measure. Aventis has not eliminated the preservative and instead offers an influenza vaccine for children younger than age two that is available with or without thimerosal (California Healthline, 8/6).
Pavley delayed until July 2006 the effective date of the legislation "to give pharmaceutical companies more time to beef up production" of thimerosal-free vaccines, the Times reports. Pavley also included a provision that would allow state officials to waive the ban during a public health emergency, such as a flu vaccine shortage.
Partly as a result of the changes, the American Academy of Pediatrics withdrew its opposition to the bill; the group now will take a neutral stance on the legislation.
Aventis and CCLHO have not changed their position. "Aventis Pasteur believes this legislation would curtail the access of Californians to needed vaccine and undermine public confidence in one of health care's most effective prevention tools," Aventis spokesperson Len Lavenda said.
Actor Gary Cole, whose daughter experienced an adverse reaction to a flu vaccine containing thimerosal and later developed autism, said, "If there is the slightest whisper that it might be unsafe and toxic, ... why not do something about it?"
Pavley said, "In an abundance of precaution, I'm carrying this bill because we know alternatives are on the market."
Manufacturers produce "much greater quantities" of flu vaccine doses with thimerosal than without, according to the Times. Federal officials this year added the flu vaccine to the routine childhood immunization schedule. The Assembly has approved the bill, which now awaits a Senate vote (Contra Costa Times, 8/19).