Washington OKs mercury in swine flu vaccine

Washington OKs mercury in swine flu vaccine »Play Video
Vials of H1N1 flu vaccine
OLYMPIA, Wash. - The state Health Department will allow more mercury than usual in some of the swine flu vaccine to make sure shots are available to pregnant women and children under age three.

The department says mercury-free swine flu vaccine may not always be in stock, so it wants to give people the choice of using vaccine with the mercury preservative called thimerosal, which is believed to be safe.

The Centers for Disease Control's Web site says the following about thimerosal:

"There is no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site.

"However, in July 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure. Most vaccines for children under six are thimerosal-free."

The suspension of the mercury limit announced Thursday lasts six months and applies only to the swine flu vaccine expected to become available in October.

The temporary measure is needed because there could be a shortage of swine flu vaccine in the state when the first batches of the vaccine are released.

KOMO News has learned that none of the single-dose vials of swine flu vaccine or seasonal flu vaccine, as well as the nasal sprays contain thimerosal. It's only the bigger vials - the ones that have multiple doses - that will have thimerosal.

Under current law, those bigger vials would be prohibited, which is why Secretary of Health Mary Seleck suspended the law - to let them into the state.

"The virus is here. It's making a lot of people sick. We're already seeing absenteeism in schools. We know that the virus has some unfortunate health effects on some populations. So we really want to make the vaccine available," she said.

Selecky points out that the H1N1 shot is voluntary.

"And we'll make sure that those who are pregnant women and parents with children under the age of 3 get the information about what's available and what choices they can make," she said.

Here is the priority list of recipients for swine flu shots once the vaccine arrives:

- Anyone age 6 months to 24 years

- Pregnant women

- Healthcare workers

- People under 50 with chronic illnesses