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Newborn and Infant Care

Vaccines and Autism

08/19/2004

Question:

What infant/toddler vaccines have been linked (alledgedly) to autism? Is there still mercury present in routine vaccines?

Answer:

You have asked important questions on many parents' minds. It is important to state that the only established side effect of thimerosal in vaccines was redness and swelling at the injection site. thimerosal is an ethylmercury used as a preservative that is quickly and easily excreted from the body in stool.

Today, with only one exception, some types of flu vaccine, there are no vaccines regularly administered to children under five years of age that contain thimerosal. Although some flu vaccines do contain thimerosal, there are several non-thimerosal containing alternatives practices may select for their patients. In addition to specific high-risk children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC now recommend that healthy children between 6 and 24 months of age receive the flu vaccine annually because of their greater risk for severe disease and death from the flu. Information about thimerosal is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on their website.

Some forms of the Tetanus-Diphtheria vaccine given to older children and adults as booster doses do contain small amounts of thimerosal. The amounts are far less than those considered safe. The FDA has more information about thimerosal in vaccines

Concern has been raised about a link specifically between autism and the MMR vaccine and between any thimerosal containing vaccine and neurodevelopmental disabilities, including but not limited to autism. Interestingly the MMR vaccine has never contained thimerosal nor have the varicella and inactivated polio (IPV) vaccines. In May 2004, the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Science (NAS) released a report entitled, Immunization Safety Review: Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism. It concludes that there is no scientific evidence to support a link between the MMR vaccine and autism nor is there scientific evidence for a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and any neurodevelopmental disability including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism or speech and language delays.

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University