A memo from Merck & Co. showed that, nearly a decade before the first public disclosure, senior executives were concerned that infants were getting an elevated dose of mercury in vaccinations containing a widely used sterilizing agent.
Around the same time this memo was being prepared, U.S. authorities were also aggressively pursuing the expansion of their vaccination schedule to include an additional five shots for children in their first six months. The danger that these shots pose lies in its deadly ingredient: thimerosal, an antibacterial compound that is composed of nearly 50 percent ethyl mercury, a neurotoxin.
What the Memo Said
The memo, which was written back in 1991, disclosed that 6-month-old children who received their shots on schedule would be receiving a mercury dose nearly 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish. In addition, it included the following recommendation: whenever possible, particularly among use in infants and young children, vaccines with mercury should be eliminated.
The memo also stated that unlike regulators in Sweden and some other countries, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not share the same concern regarding thimerosal.
Merck Tries to Keep its Head Above Vioxx Lawsuits and Vaccine Claims
The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has received over 4,200 vaccine-related complaints by parents reporting their children experienced side effects such as autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders from the mercury in vaccines.
Meanwhile, Merck has been faced with fighting off legal battles over Vioxx, the popular painkiller that has caused hundreds of lawsuits after being linked to cardiac problems and Merck covering up the risks.
Undisclosed company documents show that the drug maker was in the process of beginning a major cardiovascular study of the drug in 2002, and suddenly dropped the project just before it was set to start. The trial was scheduled to produce data by March 2004 but may have provided answers about Vioxx’s risks even earlier if patients had shown ill effects.
It was not until September 2004 that Merck put a stop to a separate study when patients in that trial experienced heart attacks and strokes at twice the rate of those receiving a placebo. At the same time, Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market.
Small Steps Made to Address the Mercury in Vaccines
In recent years thimerosal had been taken out of pediatric vaccines in what health officials described as a precautionary measure but it still remains in most doses of the flu vaccine.
Also, government officials like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger became proactive in the vaccine dilemma in September when he signed legislation that banned vaccines containing more than traces of thimerosal from being given to both babies and pregnant woman.