Triumph of the anti-vaccination movement: Measles outbreak.

02 May 2008

In the past decade or so, a worrisome movement has cropped up that seems hell-bent on using bad science to try to protect their children: People who refuse to have their children vaccinated for various childhood diseases out of fear that their children will wind up brain damaged, or worse. It seems that they've triumphed: seven US states have reported an outbreak of measles to the Centers for Disease Control. Figures released by the CDC state that 64 cases of full-blown measles have been reported to doctors, with more expected to appear as the year continues. Slightly over one fifth of the patients have been hospitalized for complications of same, usually pneumonia on top of the measles, though to be fair thirteen of the children were too young to be safely vaccinated (under one year) and one person actually had received the standard two doses of vaccine.

The movement got its start when someone discovered that a preservative used in vaccines, thimerosol, contains as part of its molecular structure the element mercury, which is known to have neurotoxic effects in humans. Their reasoning goes that since mercury is toxic to humans it's toxic to children, and someone along the way conflated exposure to mercury containing compounds with autism, which seems to be a condition that sparks faux compassion in far too many people.. but I digress. However, thimerosol hasn't been used in pediatric vaccines for years. Moreover, most vaccines don't even use thimerosol as a preservative, and haven't since the early 1980's. The movement also makes the fragmentary claim that thimerosol is comprised of almost half mercury.. by weight.

Let's look at the molecular structure of thimerosol and do a little arithmetic. The chemical formula for Ethyl(2-mercaptobenzoato-(2-)-O,S) mercurate(1-) sodium is C9H9HgNaO2S. The atomic weight of Carbon is 12.01; of hydrogen 1.00; of mercury 200.59; of sodium 22.99; of oxygen 16.00; of sulfur 32.07. (12.01 * 9) + (1.00 * 9) + 200.59 + 22.99 + (16.00 * 2) + 32.07 results in a sum molecular mass of 404.74. Hefty, but what they aren't telling you is that a) mercury is a massive metal, and b) there is only one atom of mercury in an molecule of thimerosol. What we have here is someone tailoring the facts so that they sound much more scary, and thus credible in today's "if you're not for us, you're against us" social climate. On top of this, babies and children seem to excrete thimerosol metabolites much more rapidly than people think they do. Some vaccines, like the measles-mumps-rubella complex never contained mercury compounds, not that they'll tell you that. The mercury/vaccination/autism studies of the past few years also fail to find a causal link between vaccination of children and autism. What they do suggest, however, is that the first appearance of autism does tend to happen around the time that kids are vaccinated anyway. Please let me direct you to the following medical studies that aren't part of