SafeMinds applauds UNEP's draft treaty language which does not exempt the use of mercury in pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, from the global ban. Governmental regulators, public health officials and pharmaceutical companies have recognized that the toxicity of mercury in pharmaceutical and personal care products, to which people are directly exposed, justifies a preventive approach to minimize all exposures.
"We need the vaccine industry to move into the 21st century," said Eric Uram, Executive Director of the Coalition for SafeMinds, an observer to the negotiations. "The treaty looks to phase-out unnecessary mercury use in products by requiring alternatives. We need to make sure all products used are the safest and least toxic possible. The treaty does this by signaling the end of using thimerosal in vaccines."
In most industrialized countries it has been relatively easy to replace, reduce, or eliminate thimerosal as a preservative in single and multi-dose vaccines. Alternatives are available to address issues related to vaccine shelf-life and sterility in developing countries that can even eliminate the use of preservatives, but pressure to change has never really been applied.
"The evidence continues to mount that mercury in vaccines is not safe, that negative effects happen even with vaccine levels of exposure," said Dr. Jose Dorea, Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Universidad de Brasilia. "We must end the use of thimerosal as soon as possible. No pregnant mother or child should have to trade getting mercury injected into them for the prevention of an infectious disease."
None of the "live" vaccines including oral polio, measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), yellow fever or tuberculosis (BCG) have ever contained thimerosal and current immunization programs for those vaccines will not be impacted. However, thimerosal is still used in many diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT), tetanus toxoid (TT), hepatitis B, and influenza vaccines, especially in developing countries.
The World Health Organization maintains that thimerosal is necessary as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations, especially in developing countries. Fortunately other readily available products approved for use as vaccine preservatives do not contain mercury, are much less toxic, and are cost-comparable to thimerosal including 2-phenoxyethanol, benzethonium chloride and phenol. Several vaccines with one of these non-mercury preservatives have been approved by the U.S. FDA and administered to children in the United States.
"A blanket exemption for use of thimerosal is unjustified and urgent efforts are needed to phase out its use in all products globally. It is unethical and unjust to continue the exportation of thimerosal-containing products from countries where they are no longer accepted into other less developed countries. SafeMinds contends that immediate substitution should be a global priority," said Lyn Redwood, RN MSN, Vice-President, Coalition for SafeMinds.