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article imageH1N1 vaccine safety becomes an issue in Canada

By Stephanie Dearing     Oct 23, 2009 in Health
As Canada gears up to administer the H1N1 vaccine for Monday, concerns about the vaccine's safety are growing. Officials are working to calm the fears of parents while countering the swine flu conspiracies that continue to grow.
With the H1N1 vaccine ready to go in most provinces and territories on Monday, some parents have started asking questions about the use of thimerosal, a form of mercury, and its safety. Both of Canada's adjuvanted and unadjuvanted vaccines contain thimerosal. Health Canada says the small amounts of mercury in the vaccine are safe, and this phrase was repreated Monday by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq during a press conference.
Health Canada approved the H1N1 vaccine Wednesday and posted information about AREPANRIX. According to the information on Health Canada's website "... Both vaccines contain a small amount of thimerosal. Thimerosal is a form of mercury used in the H1N1 flu vaccine to stabilize it and maintain its quality during storage. Thimerosal is a different form of mercury than the mercury known to cause health problems. The amount in the H1N1 adjuvanted flu vaccine is much less than the daily limit recommended for environmental exposure to mercury. For example, there is significantly less mercury in the vaccine than you would find in a can of tuna fish ... Yes, the unadjuvanted vaccine does contain 50 ug of thimerosal while the adjuvanted vaccine has only 5 ug of thimerosal. The 50 ug remains within the daily limit recommended for environmental exposure to mercury. There’s significantly less mercury in the vaccine than you would find in a can of tuna fish." Health Canada has recommended that children under the age of three receive the unadjuvanted vaccine.
Some people believe that thimerosal in vaccines is reponsible for the increasing rates of autism. No matter what one may believe, thimerosal is a hazardous substance. The Material Safety Data Sheet for thimerosal says that chronic exposure can cause mutagenic effects in mammals. The State of California has required products containing harmful metals, or chemicals be labelled with a warning "This product contains the following ingredients for which the State of California has found to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, which would require a warning under the statute: Thimerosal." The United States did not purchase adjuvanted vaccines, and the nasal (live) vaccine does not contain thimerosol. The United States has not used thimerosal in children's vaccines since 2006.
The adjuvanted vaccine contains an ingredient known as squalene. Scientists say that squalene boosts the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, which means there is more vaccine to go around. The natural substance, produced by the human body, plants and fish, has been used in influenza vaccines since the 1990s. Squalene enhanced vaccines are allowed in Europe, but not the United States. There was an attempt to demonstrate a correlation between squalene and Gulf War syndrome, but that was discredited by a joint international study. The official counterpoint is that people should be more concerned with suffering adverse reactions to the flu.
There is a rampant rumour coursing through North America, as well as other parts of the world, that the H1N1 vaccine is a secret government experiment that will result in the deaths of those who receive the vaccine. An alternative rumour is that the pharmaceutical companies manufactured the H1N1 pandemic in order to profit from the vaccine. Given that some pharmaceutical companies have been found guilty of maximizing profits from their products, this theory is not so far-fetched. However, officials insist the rumours have no basis in reality.
In the United States doctors and nurses said the safety of the H1N1 vaccines had not been proven. The health care workers in New York State felt so strongly they asked for -- and received a restraining order against the State of New York, stopping the state from making the H1N1 vaccination mandatory for health care workers. They also said that the live vaccination could trigger an outbreak of the flu. While other health officials pooh-pooh this assertion, there is, again, a basis in reality. The live polio vaccine has triggered outbreaks of polio in both the United States and China. Canadian health care workers will be among the first to receive the vaccination shots.
Health Canada says that the risks to people from the H1N1 virus are much greater than any safety risk posed by the vaccine, adjuvanted or not.
The adjuvanted vaccine has not been tested for safety on pregnant women. Some doctors say it is safe to use, while others advise that pregnant women should wait for the unadjuvanted vaccine if possible.
AREPANRIX was registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization on May 22, 2007 by GlaxoSmithKline.
Europe is using a vaccine called CELVAPAN H1N1, produced by Baxter. The vaccine is non-adjuvanted. Baxter began work on this vaccine in 2004.
More about H1n1 vaccine, H1n1 vaccine conspiracy theory, Swine flu, Vaccine safety, Thimerosol
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