Monday, July 16, 2018
Health

There's no evidence to support parental fears about vaccines

My introduction to antivaccine thinking came six years ago, during a natural birth class. To our list of big decisions, the teacher added another — whether to go along with routine vaccinations, the first of which (for hepatitis B) is typically given before the baby leaves the hospital. • We chose the standard, doctor-recommended vaccine schedule for all three of our children. But for some people, childhood vaccination is a fraught issue. • At a recent child's birthday party, for example, one father mentioned that he and his wife had opted out of vaccinating their children. They didn't feel comfortable with the mercury in vaccines, apparently referring to suspicion of its link to autism.

I was stumped. The preservative thimerosal, which contains a form of mercury called ethyl mercury, was removed from most vaccines in the United States more than a decade ago and has long since been absolved of causing autism.

Thimerosal has been used as a preservative to prevent bacterial and fungal growth in certain multidose vaccines and other biological products since the 1930s. In the late 1990s, health officials began to grow increasingly aware of the dangers of mercury in fish and shellfish. The mercury found in fish is an entirely different form than what is in thimerosal. It's called methyl mercury; it grows more concentrated as it moves up the food chain and is neurotoxic in large amounts, especially to developing fetuses.

•••

But the seafood contamination issue led to concerns about the trace amount of mercury used in vaccines.

"At that time — 1999 — there really wasn't sufficient scientific information to know about the differences between how ethyl mercury would act versus methyl mercury," says Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Still, even then, enough was known about the genetic basis of autism and the unique clinical syndrome caused by mercury poisoning to make any causal link between autism and thimerosal highly unlikely, he adds.

As a precaution, the Food and Drug Administration called for a review of the mercury content in food and drugs. Although there was no evidence of harm from the ethyl mercury in vaccines, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Public Health Service acted pre-emptively to avoid any potential harm and to protect public trust; in 1999, these agencies issued a ban on the use of thimerosal in routine vaccinations given to infants and children. By the early 2000s, thimerosal had been removed from vaccines such as those for hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTap), and haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib).

The ban did not apply to annual influenza vaccines; U.S. health organizations concluded that the benefits of the influenza vaccines far outweighed the low risk of harm from thimerosal.

"There was never actually a problem with thimerosal," says Roger Baxter, co-director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, Calif. "It was all manufactured by rumor."

•••

Numerous studies have looked at whether children who received mercury-containing vaccines had poorer outcomes or increased risk of autism or other disorders, and no causal link has been found.

Still, the controversy surrounding thimerosal helped buoy the antivaccine movement in the late '90s. About the same time, the movement began to focus on the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, spurred by a now-discredited study claiming it could cause autism. The paper was found to be fraudulent, and author Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, lost his medical license.

In recent years, antivaccine proponents have begun to focus on timing, suggesting that too many vaccines too early in life can overload a child's immune system and cause autism.

"The good news here is that these are questions that can be answered by science, and science has answered them," says Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, an organization that helps fund research into the causes of autism. Pointing to the many papers that have explored and refuted the links between autism and thimerosal, the MMR vaccine and vaccine timing, Singer says: "They're all showing the same thing — that vaccines do not result in an increase in the diagnosis rate of autism. The question is, 'Are you as a parent willing to believe what the data clearly say?' And the majority of parents are."

Singer's daughter, who is now 16, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.

•••

Nevertheless, it is easy to get your child fully vaccinated without exposure to a mercury-containing preservative, says Neal Halsey, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. For example, parents can request versions of the influenza vaccine that have no mercury, Halsey says.

Overall, risks from vaccines are low, Halsey notes. About one per million doses can lead to a serious complication such as a severe allergic reaction.

"But it's at least a thousand times safer to give your child the vaccine than it is to let them be unvaccinated," he says.

Comments
So far, so good. Doctors at Tampa General find success with a device that fights often-fatal aneurysms

So far, so good. Doctors at Tampa General find success with a device that fights often-fatal aneurysms

TAMPA — Dr. Murray Shames holds a flexible, lightweight tube as wide as two garden hoses pushed together in his office at Tampa General Hospital. The polyester tube, and its thinner fastening branches with metal wiring, will be attached inside someon...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Sunday Conversation: Sherry Hoback looks to move Tampa Family Health Centers to the next level

Sunday Conversation: Sherry Hoback looks to move Tampa Family Health Centers to the next level

TAMPA — Taking over for an administrator who has run a company for almost 20 years can be daunting. • But Sherry Hoback prepared for some time to replace Charles Bottoms as CEO of the Tampa Family Health Centers, a non-profit organization that operat...
Published: 07/12/18
Updated: 07/15/18
How can City Hall improve our health? A new push in Pinellas hopes to show the way.

How can City Hall improve our health? A new push in Pinellas hopes to show the way.

The charitable organization that owns a 20 percent stake in St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Health hospital is working with local governments to improve the public’s health, part of a strategy to make a difference in new and often subtle ways. The Foundati...
Published: 07/11/18
Updated: 07/12/18
New York organ collection agency, nation’s second-largest, threatened with closure

New York organ collection agency, nation’s second-largest, threatened with closure

The government is threatening to close one of the country’s largest "organ procurement organizations" for poor performance, a rare move against a nonprofit group that collects kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs used in transplantation.In a lett...
Published: 07/11/18
Retirement communities turn their sights on a once-invisible group: LGBT seniors

Retirement communities turn their sights on a once-invisible group: LGBT seniors

In 2016, as Kenneth MacLean was about to turn 90 and was looking to move to a retirement community, he had a question for Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland."I asked, ‘Would there be many gays here? Would gays be welcomed?’ " MacLean,...
Published: 07/09/18
The other victims: First responders to horrific events often suffer in solitude

The other victims: First responders to horrific events often suffer in solitude

The day a gunman fired into a crowd of 22,000 people at the country music festival in Las Vegas, hospital nursing supervisor Antoinette Mullan was focused on one thing: saving lives.She recalls dead bodies on gurneys across the triage floor, a trauma...
Published: 07/09/18
Put your best feet forward with this health, footwear and beauty advice

Put your best feet forward with this health, footwear and beauty advice

All of a sudden, it’s hot and sunny everywhere — summer, officially — and even the shiest, palest, most woebegone toes are peeking out from their hiding places up North. They’ve been scrubbed and buffed, their nails clipped and polished. And they’re...
Published: 07/06/18
Research points to another exercise perk: mood improvement

Research points to another exercise perk: mood improvement

By Gabriella Boston Special to the Washington Post Do you go for a run to clear your head? Do you walk with friends to decompress, lift weights or do yoga to de-stress? In short, do you exercise to improve your mood? If so, you are on the right tr...
Published: 07/06/18
Mayo Clinic Q&A: tinnitus causes, treatments; liquid biopsies

Mayo Clinic Q&A: tinnitus causes, treatments; liquid biopsies

TAMP DOWN TROUBLING TINNITUS SENSATIONWhat causes tinnitus, and is there anything that can be done to get rid of it?Tinnitus, the sensation of hearing a sound when no external sound is present, often is described as a ringing, buzzing, roaring, click...
Published: 07/06/18
Give vegetables a starring role in grilled kebabs

Give vegetables a starring role in grilled kebabs

America’s Test KitchenWhen it comes to grilled kebabs, vegetables are often an afterthought, typically used as a filler on meat-heavy skewers. But this treatment often leads to mushy, burnt vegetables with no flavor of their own. We wanted to create ...
Published: 07/06/18