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Independents' Day

Government bid to counter thiomersal autism claims

The Government has laun-ched a public relations campaign to convince parents that thiomersal used in childhood vaccines is not linked to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

The Department of Health acted following fears that media coverage of the issue could trigger an MMR-style crisis.

Vaccines containing thiomersal include whole-cell DTP-Hib, adsorbed DT vaccine, hepatitis A and B and some influenza vaccines.

The department has published a factsheet on its website explaining how thiomersal is broken down to form ethylmercury, which is considered less toxic than methylmercury found in the environment and fish such as tuna.

It also cites studies scrutinised by the Committee on Safety of Medicines which rule out any link between thiomersal exposure in the childhood schedule and development and behavioural disorders.

But it fails to mention that

a US Institute of Medicine safety review said in 2001 the hypothesis that exposure to thiomersal-containing vaccines could be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders was 'biologically plausible'.

RCGP immunisation spokesman Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, welcomed the campaign but urged the Government to go much further to allay parents' fears about vaccines.

He said: 'Beyond factsheets for thiomersal there is a need to review the kind of vaccine information and the way we give it to parents.

'The department should issue GPs, health visitors and nurses with factsheets on every vaccine we give to children. Parents should receive these in advance of commencing vaccinations at two months of age.

'A better-informed parent is a less worried parent. I would like to see the complications of the infectious disease compared with possible complications of the vaccine.'

A spokeswoman for the department said: 'We are always concerned about incorrect media publicity and the adverse effect it may have on the health of our children. The levels of thiomersal in vaccines are low. Independent expert advice is that there is no evidence of long-term adverse effects from thiomersal in vaccines in the UK childhood immunisation programme.'

European and US regulators have recommended vaccine manufacturers phase out the use of thiomersal.

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