At present, the five-component vaccine isn’t available in the UK. This means that the UK government has opted to stay with a vaccine known to cause the greatest number of reactions in babies rather than change to the purified newer version with an arguably comparable efficacy.
The biggest controversy with the old whole-cell vaccine has to do with thimerosal. This mercury-based preservative is used in vaccines to prevent contamination or to inactivate live bacteria. Although not present in most other vaccines, it is still used in DTP vaccines produced by Evans-Medeva and Aventis Pasteur, and DT vaccines produced by Aventis Pasteur and Chiron Behring.
Thimerosal has recently been the subject of congressional hearings in the US (see box, p 2) as a neurotoxin possibly contributing to the huge increase in autism.
Significantly, the new acellular vaccine does not contain thimerosal.
The British government defends its position on the grounds that UK babies are not exposed to ‘high doses’ of thimerosal because amounts in the UK schedule are roughly half those of the US.
But that’s only because the US uses more vaccines containing thimerosal than we do in the UK. Nevertheless, this fails to address the real issue, which is that one of the most toxic substances known to man has no business being present in any quantity in a substance injected into the bodies of newborns.
European and American authorities have given the vaccine manufacturers the gentlest of slaps on the wrist, recommending that vaccine manufacturers 'phase out' the use of thimerosal 'whenever possible'.
But they have not recommended that any vaccines be withdrawn from use. This allows manufacturers to take their time in investigating ways to substitute thimerosal in vaccines, without liability, and to use up their existing stocks.
The Committee on Safety of Medicines reviewed data relating to possible neurodevelopmental effects from thimerosal. Not surprisingly, it concluded that there is no evidence of harm caused by current doses of thimerosal in vaccines, other than 'hypersensitivity reactions'. Once again, the ostrich has spoken.