[MKE - Indymedia] mercury vaccine
pryz1 at earthlink.net
Wed Feb 16 09:36:41 PST 2005
Vaccine maker's '91 memo suggests mercury-level risk
Myron Levin, Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
A memo from Merck & Co. shows 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.
The March 1991 memo, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, said 6-month-old children who received their shots on schedule would get a mercury dose as much as 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish.
"When viewed in this way, the mercury load appears rather large," Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman, an internationally renowned vaccinologist, wrote in a memo to the president of Merck's vaccine division.
The memo was prepared as U.S. health authorities aggressively were expanding their immunization schedule by adding five new shots for children in their first six months. Many of these shots, as well as some previously included on the schedule, contained thimerosal, an anti-bacterial compound that is nearly 50 percent ethyl mercury, a neurotoxin.
Federal health officials disclosed for the first time in 1999 that many infants were being exposed to mercury above health guidelines through routine vaccinations. The announcement followed a review by the Food and Drug Administration that was described at the time as a first effort to assess the cumulative mercury dose.
But the memo shows that at least one major manufacturer was aware of the concern much earlier.
"The key issue is whether thimerosal, in the amount given with the vaccine, does or does not constitute a safety hazard," the memo said. "However, perception of hazard may be equally important."
Merck officials would not discuss the memo, citing litigation.
Separately, the drug giant is trying to fend off a legal onslaught over Vioxx, the popular painkiller it introduced in 1999. The Whitehouse Station, N. J., company faces lawsuits claiming the drug caused heart problems and that Merck concealed the risks.
The legacy of thimerosal, meanwhile, also is causing problems for Merck and other drug companies. More than 4,200 claims have been filed in a special federal tribunal, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, by parents asserting that their children suffered autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders from mercury in vaccines. A handful of similar claims are awaiting trial in civil courts.
Thimerosal has been largely removed from pediatric vaccines in recent years in what officials have described as a precautionary measure.
In September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation prohibiting vaccines with more than trace amounts of thimerosal from being given to babies and pregnant women in California.
For their part, Merck and other vaccine makers, along with many health officials and scientists, say there is no credible evidence of harm from the amounts of mercury once widely present in kids' shots. They cite a report in May by a committee of the national Institute of Medicine concluding that the evidence "favors rejection of a causal relationship" between vaccines and autism.
The seven-page memo was provided to the Times by James A. Moody, a lawyer who works with parent groups on vaccine safety issues. He said he obtained it from a whistle-blower whom he would not name.
The memo provides the "first hard evidence that the companies knew -- or at least Merck knew -- that the children were getting significantly more mercury (than the generally accepted dose)," the lawyer said.
He also provided a copy to attorneys for Vera Easter, a Texas woman who blames thimerosal for the condition of her 7-year-old son, Jordan, who is autistic and mentally retarded. The Easter lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court for the eastern district of Texas. The defendants include Merck, thimerosal developer Eli Lilly & Co., and other vaccine makers.
Easter's attorney, Andy Waters, described the memo as "incredibly damning and incredibly significant." After receiving it in the fall, he confronted Merck lawyers about why he hadn't seen it earlier.
In a letter to Waters in October, Merck attorneys said that they had in fact made available 32 boxes of records but that the copying service hired by the plaintiffs for some reason had failed to copy several of the boxes -- including the one with the Hilleman memo.
"The memo," said company spokeswoman Mary Elizabeth Blake, "was produced voluntarily by Merck in the ordinary course of discovery proceedings."
Hilleman is a former senior vice president of Merck who developed numerous vaccines for the company. A 1999 profile in the Philadelphia Inquirer said, "it is no exaggeration to assert, as many scientists do, that Maurice Hilleman has saved more lives than any other living scientist."
Hilleman, 85, currently director of the Merck Institute for Vaccinology, had officially retired and was a consultant to Merck when he wrote the '91 memo. He declined to be interviewed.
The memo was sent to Dr. Gordon Douglas, then head of Merck's vaccine division and now a consultant for the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health. Douglas also declined to comment.
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