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Mercury is in tuna, flu shots

Editorial: Mercury is in tuna, flu shots
Know the risks and avoid them

July 1, 2004
Source: Ventura County Star

Tuna and flu vaccines have one thing in common: mercury. That has put them in the news of late, and the public needs to pay attention, as mercury at certain levels can damage the brains of fetuses and children.

Regarding tuna, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued the three largest producers of tuna in the country June 21 for not posting warnings to consumers about mercury levels in the popular fish.

Regarding flu vaccines, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, is pushing a bill to ban mercury from vaccines given to infants and pregnant women. The flu vaccine is the latest recommended universal childhood immunization that contains the mercury-containing preservative, thimerosal. Assembly Bill 2943 was passed June 23 on a 10-to-2 vote by the state Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

Lawsuit, legislation supported

The Star supports the tuna lawsuit and proposed vaccine legislation. The effects of mercury are scientifically documented, but still too few people know about the dangers and too many special interests are trying to cloud the issue.

Mercury is a metal that is released both naturally and by industrial pollution. It falls from the air and accumulates in water, where it becomes methylmercury. It is ingested by fish and becomes more concentrated in bigger fish as it moves up the food chain. For that reason, the federal government has long warned women who are pregnant, may become pregnant or who are nursing to avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish completely. In the spring, the government further advised childbearing women and children to limit their consumption of tuna, in particular albacore, or white, tuna, as it has more mercury than light tuna. However, too few grocery stores post warnings in the tuna aisle and the information is nowhere to be found on tuna cans.

Mercury in flu vaccine

Mercury is also a concern in vaccines. The vaccine preservative, thimerosal, is composed of nearly 50 percent ethylmercury. Health officials belatedly realized that children were being exposed to dangerous cumulative levels of mercury due to the number of required vaccinations. So, in 1999, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Academy of Pediatrics asked that thimerosal be removed from children's vaccinations, and it was.

It makes no sense then that the bulk of the flu vaccine to be injected into infants this fall would contain thimerosal, even though the producer of the vaccine can make the vaccine with thimerosal or without.

Some in the medical community, including the state chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, opposed Assemblywoman Pavley's bill, fearing it would lead to a shortage of the vaccine. The Academy of Pediatrics adopted a neutral stance when Assemblywoman Pavley amended her bill to allow a six-month delay and to allow a waiver in case of a public health emergency.

We congratulate Attorney General Lockyer and Assemblywoman Pavley for directing the public's attention to such an important public health issue.