Why Is Mercury Still In Flu Shots? A Good Question With No Good Answer
By Tim Kasemodel
A while back Twyla Ramos shared some e-mails between herself and the CDC regarding mercury content in our vaccine supply. Her persistence for a clear answer was inspirational but the result was shocking; no one is checking to see if they are truly mercury free.
I want to share with you the result of phone conversations I had with the CDC regarding the supply of thimerosal-free flu vaccines. I specifically wanted to ascertain how the CDC orders flu vaccine and when we can in fact expect increasing supplies of mercury-free flu vaccines as has for years been promised. The following is an informal recollection of my discussions with these CDC employees.
In April of 2007, I called Julie Orta, the Vaccines for Children Program Project Officer for Minnesota to discuss how the Minnesota Department of Health orders vaccines for the VFC Program. The purpose of the call was to determine how Minnesota could move forward with the procurement of vaccines that are all 100% mercury free.
I explained my understanding that, except for the flu vaccine, all infant (under 3 years) vaccines ordered for the Vaccines for Children Program are “preservative” free, and that I was aware that this did not necessarily mean “mercury free.” Ms. Orta explained that the state vaccine programs are encouraged to order both mercury-free and mercury-containing flu vaccines. This is because the CDC receives only a certain amount of mercury-free flu vaccine from the manufacturers and those are “distributed evenly among all states” in the VFC program. If a state were to order all mercury-free vaccines, and the CDC were only able to deliver half of those ordered, then they would be short by half of their needed supply.
I inquired if the manufacturers were given orders for all mercury-free vaccines for Minnesota, why would the manufacturers not then produce all mercury-free vaccines for Minnesota? She reiterated that the supply must be distributed evenly among the states, regardless of the laws within the state. She added that the manufacturers only make a limited supply each year. I then asked Ms. Orta why they could not simply fill the balance with the mercury-containing vaccine, allowing us to send the message we want them to produce more mercury-free, yet still get the total amount of vaccine requested. The answer was that Minnesota would not have ordered any, so there would be none to deliver, and that is why the ordering of mercury-containing vaccines is encouraged.
I told Ms. Orta that it appeared to me that the CDC was in the position of discouraging the production of mercury-free vaccines by telling the states to order vaccines that contain mercury. She told me that the CDC goes to the manufacturers “with their tail between their legs, asking for as many thimerosal-free vaccines as they can make,” but since they only make a limited supply, the CDC can only get a limited supply. I responded that the message I have been hearing from the manufacturers is that they would make more, but the demand is not there and many mercury-free vaccines go unsold every year. I then repeated that it seemed to me that the CDC is controlling the demand and supply of mercury containing vaccines by being the middle man in the equation, and that they could do the most good by simply sending the message to the manufacturers they would want ALL mercury free flu vaccine as soon as possible.
At this point, Ms Orta gave me the name and phone number of Dr. Greg Wallace, MD, MPH, CDC National Immunization Program, who she stated was a “negotiator” with the vaccine manufacturers.
On September 17th 2007, I called Dr. Wallace and explained that Julie Orta had referred me to him. I asked Dr. Wallace to elaborate on how he orders the flu vaccine from the manufacturers and how the supply of mercury-free flu vaccines could be increased for Minnesota.
Dr. Wallace repeated many of the same things that I had heard earlier from Ms. Orta. He added that the reason the manufacturers are not increasing the production of mercury-free flu vaccine is that they always have leftover supplies that go unused. He asked why they would produce more if they can not sell them. I asked Dr. Wallace why there were any leftover mercury free vaccines when the CDC could simply take them all and give them to the states. He stated that the individual states must “make a judgment” as to how many mercury-free vaccines the state would need, that the state would not know what the eventual supply could be.
I explained that during the past years of working with the Minnesota Department of Health, advocates for mercury-free vaccines have heard time and time again that the manufacturers are working hard to produce more mercury-free vaccines and will eventually phase thimerosal out completely, thus no need for legislation mandating a preference. I added that his explanation seemed to contradict what advocates have been hearing from the MDH. Again, it appeared to me that the production of mercury-free vaccines is now stalled due to the ordering practices set up by the CDC, to which he offered no comment.
I explained to Dr. Wallace that there is a “status quo,” where the production of mercury-free vaccines is no longer going to increase as long as the CDC continues to recommend that states purchase mercury-containing vaccines. He said that “people want multi-dose vials of vaccines”, implying the reason for the low supply of mercury-free vaccines was because “people” want vaccines with mercury. I answered by saying “people” are not demanding mercury in their vaccines, the physicians and providers are, at the encouragement of the CDC. I explained that “people” do not know that mercury is in their vaccines. I suggested that “people” may not be in such a big hurry to demand the vaccine if they were aware it contained mercury.
I went on to tell Dr. Wallace that I am working on legislation in Minnesota that would require that people are informed if a vaccine contains mercury, and that seemed to be a simple way to increase the demand for mercury-free vaccines. I added that advocates for mercury-free vaccines have been having a hard time passing the legislation due to opposition from the Department of Health and the CDC. Dr. Wallace said that the CDC does not get involved with legislation. I responded by saying the CDC funds groups like the Immunization Action Coalition, who are actively opposing our current legislation, so, technically, they do.
At this point Dr. Wallace’s pleasant attitude quickly disappeared, explaining that if I had no other questions he had other things to do. I thanked him for his time and said goodbye.
Personally, I now have more questions than answers. It seems to me that further inquiry is needed to determine if the CDC is bound by law that mercury-free flu vaccine be “distributed evenly among all states” or if it is simply their choice to ignore individual state laws. One very clear question that comes to me is “What is it that the CDC is afraid would happen if some states got all mercury-containing flu vaccine and others were given all mercury-free flu vaccine?” as mandated by law in seven states? To me, one very clear answer emerges.
Tim Kasemodel is a stay-at-home dad for his children, John (mildly affected by mercury, age 12) and Thomas (severely affected by mercury, age 10); vice-president of the Minnesota Natural Health Coalition Legal Reform Project (volunteer parent lobbyist for the Setting a Preference for Mercury-free Vaccines Bill - SF 1780 and HF 1917), member of A-Champ, NAA, and ARC Greater Twin Cities. To read about the Kasemodel family, see ARC Greater Twin Cities' Web site HERE.