August 5 2001
THE Department of Health has told doctors they must use stocks of a mercury-based vaccine for infants even though it is being phased out for safety reasons.
The department is issuing the brand which contains mercury despite fears that it could be a cause of autism and other disorders. The decision flies in the face of European guidelines that warn it would be prudent to avoid such vaccines for children.
Mercury-free vaccines are available to the health department but last month all GPs and clinics, which inoculate more than 600,000 babies a year, were told all orders for the combined diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) and Hib vaccine (which protects against a form of meningitis) would be met with a product containing thiomersal, which is almost 50% mercury. This was "in order to make good use of the current and future stocks available".
The previous policy was to supply a DTP Hib vaccine, Infanrix Hib, which does not contain mercury.
Two years ago medicine regulators in America and Europe recommended the mercury-containing preservative thiomersal should be phased out of vaccines "within the shortest possible time frame".
This followed an announcement by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that accumulated mercury in vaccines given to babies under six months in America exceeded safety limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a related US study, researchers from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found a "statistically significant" association between thiomersal in vaccines and children with problems such as attention deficit disorder and speech and language learning delays.
Last year the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products said: "For vaccination in infants and toddlers, as a precautionary measure it would be prudent to promote the general use of vaccines without thiomersal and other mercurial preservatives. Moreover, the use of the available thiomersal-free vaccines should be recommended for vaccination of newborns."
The health department's decision will outrage parents already concerned that vaccines may damage their children. "It beggars belief," said Isabella Thomas, from Brighton, whose son Michael is autistic.
"To replace a vaccine which contains no mercury, which must be safer, with one which contains a toxic substance to use up stocks is disgraceful and irresponsible."
When asked why it was not promoting Infanrix, the health department said: "The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has decided Infanrix is not as effective as the other."
A Worcestershire doctor faces a possible suspension for up to 18 months for prescribing separate measles, mumps and rubella injections to children whose parents are worried by the reported health risks posed by the combined vaccination.
Dr Peter Mansfield is being investigated by the General Medical Council following a complaint from his county health authority
|Vaccines containing thiomersal
UK Licensed Vaccines containing thiomersal¹
¹which is 49.6% mercury