Los Angeles Times
March 7, 2005
By Myron Levin, Times Staff Writer
Drug maker Merck & Co. continued to supply infant vaccine containing a mercury-based preservative for two years after declaring that it had eliminated the chemical.
In September 1999, amid rising concern about the risks of mercury in childhood vaccines, Merck announced that the Food and Drug Administration had approved a preservative-free version of its hepatitis B vaccine.
“Now, Merck’s infant vaccine line,” the company’s press release said, “is free of all preservatives.”
But Merck continued to distribute vaccine containing the chemical known as thimerosal, along with the new product, until October 2001, according to an FDA letter sent in response to a congressional inquiry.
The thimerosal-containing supplies had expiration dates in 2002.
Merck executives confirmed the details in the FDA letter but defended the accuracy of Merck’s announcement in 1999, saying the company had indeed begun to produce preservative-free vaccine.