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Monday, November 07, 2005 

Father speaks out against Michigan anti-thimerosal bill

JP over at Support Vaccination.org shares a sad story about the death of 5-year-old Alana due to influenza. Her father sent this letter to Senator Hammerstrom, sponsor of the bill:

Senator, unfortunately I have had to live through the tragedy of losing my 5 year old daughter Alana to Influenza - a vaccine preventable disease.

On February 2nd of 2003, Alana had developed a low grade fever (100 degrees) but, spent much of the day playing with her siblings (eating ice cream, dancing, and watching movies). That evening Alana's fever went to 106 and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Within hours of arrival to the local hospital Alana died of complications of the flu - causing swelling to her brain. Unfortunately, Alana was never vaccinated with the Flu-Vaccine because we were never informed of the dangers of Influenza and our pediatrician had never suggested giving any of our children the Flu-Vaccine. However, I strongly believe that had Alana been vaccinated her chances of surviving the Flu would have greatly increased.

The Anti-thimerosal Vaccine Legislation is dangerous to our nation' health. It could result in children going unvaccinated because current U.S. manufacturing capacity cannot produce enough thimerosal-free vaccine each year to vaccinate children. The pediatric influenza deaths rates during 2003-2004 season (Alana being one of them) are a sharp reminder of the danger that vaccine-preventable diseases still pose to children and the need to ensure that every child is vaccinated. The one manufacturer of thimerosal-free influenza vaccine is moving to expand manufacturing capacity. Passing state laws outlawing thimerosal will not make manufacturing capacity increase faster, it will just mean that vaccine may not be available to vaccinate children in anti-thimerosal states.

This letter was sent in reference to Michigan Senate Bill 720 (more info here), apparently prohibiting "immunizing agents that contain more than 1 microgram of mercury or compounds of mercury." This seems to be in response to the thimerosal scare, and Alana's family is worried that it will result in a decrease in vaccination rates, with a subsequent rise in vaccine-preventable diseases.

I hadn't realized until now what Iowa was the first state in the nation to ban thimerosal in vaccines.

Iowa's anti-thimerosal action came four days before a panel of the federal advisory Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued its final report on thimerosal in vaccines. That May 18 report, which received widespread press attention, concluded that no evidence supported this conclusion. While the IOM report sought to resolve the controversy over thimerosal, Bernard says the debate is far from over. "The IOM report makes things more difficult for us in terms of convincing the wider medical community that this is a problem," she says. "We don't want the IOM to shut down the science or the debate so the legal system doesn't have anything to work with." Bernard says many new research efforts on thimerosal and autism were under way, including some funded by SAFE Minds.

(Emphasis mine) Doesn't this send off any alarm bells for anyone? The scientific community be damned, we're going to keep pushing doctors to believe our ideas, even against the weight of evidence? Worrying about the legal system instead of the scientific consensus?

I have a lot of sympathy for these parents. The article mentions one family that had to spend $30,000 in one year for care of their autistic child. As a parent, I cannot imagine how they must feel. But the evidence just isn't showing the link they want it to, and meanwhile, autism is still a huge problem in this country. How tragic that their efforts, instead of saving children, may cause more to suffer Alana's fate instead.

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About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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