In an era of the internet and global exposure, an individual has multiple means of assessing the available options to fathom the consequences of their choices. When my son was born, both my husband and I wanted to check every aspect of the mandatory vaccines that were to be injected once he reached the milestones in life. It was our pediatrician who enlightened us with an in-depth analysis of the need for vaccination in children. But there was a nagging feeling about the side-effects of preservatives in vaccines after we came to know about mercury being one of its components. We carried out a detailed check about the need for preservatives in vaccines before going for a detailed discussion with the pediatrician.
From the available sources, we understood that preservatives were compounds that killed or prevented the growth of microorganisms like fungus and bacteria. In case the vaccine was accidentally contaminated due to repeated needle puncture of multi-dose vials, the preservatives prevented microbial growth. Thimerosal, (approx 50% mercury by weight), has one of the most widely used preservatives in vaccines.
In 1998, there was a study in Britain where a Doctor claimed about the MMR vaccine causing autism in children. Thimerosal was one such ingredient that was considered to be responsible for this hazard. This study led to such an uproar than many parents shunned vaccines. The results were proved to be incorrect due to the small sample size and various other conditions not taken into consideration for a conclusive deduction. Eventually, the FDA, CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine had to declare the usage of Thimerosal in vaccines as safe to eradicate the fear and bring the vaccination process back on track.
Yet, one cannot deny the fact that mercury is known for its toxicity. While there is no conclusive proof for its harmful effects as a preservative, no study has also proved for certain that it is safe. This is what makes the case of preservative-free vaccines stronger.
In the last few years, Thimerosal has been removed from most of the vaccines used in developed countries. However, it is still used in vaccines meant for developing countries. While the lack of awareness is one of the reasons, the fact that vaccines are sold to developing countries in multi-dose vials at a lower cost-per-dose also makes them a preferred choice. It is assumed that single-dose vials of vaccines (preservative-free) are not economical for developing countries, both in terms of the cost of vaccines per unit and cold chain requirements. But these assumptions might not be based on the actual scenarios in these countries.
Multi-dose vials have the added advantage of occupying less cold-storage space per dose. This aspect is overshadowed by a shocking percentage of vaccine wastage. Single-dose vials become more appealing and effective in terms of simplifying inventory logistics and vaccine tracking. In a developing country like India, one of the strongest reasons for switching to single-dose vials in the future could be the process of cost-effective manufacturing of these ampoules which makes them affordable.
Based on our discussion, the pediatrician agreed to our choice of a preservative-free vaccine. It took us an additional week to comply with the vaccination schedule but we decided to stick by our conviction of a healthy future for our son. While the findings of research-based studies related to the effects of mercury in vaccines have been vague and full of conflicts, we consider it advisable to be better safe than sorry. Hence, if the option of a preservative-free vaccine is available for a child, it is always recommended to consult with the pediatrician and opt for the same.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog content are independent and unbiased views of solely the blogger. This is a part of the public awareness initiative supported by Sanofi Pasteur India. Sanofi Pasteur bears no responsibility for the content of the blog. One should consult their healthcare provider for any health-related information.