Vaccines have been in the news a lot lately, and they likely will continue to be for quite some time. I want to start this explanation by stating that I don’t tell my patients to refrain from getting vaccines. Vaccinations can be a good thing, and it would be hard to refute the fact that some vaccines have helped to save many lives in the last 60 years. When my patients ask me about vaccines, I tell them that the best thing they can do is to get informed about the vaccinations they’re considering and make a decision that takes into consideration all the related risks and benefits. That said, here are a few of the vaccines that have been under fire recently:
Influenza vaccines: Commonly called flu shots, a number of vaccinations for the influenza virus are on the market today. Some of these vaccines include a chemical called thimerosal, which contains mercury. Thimerosal is used as a preservative in these influenza vaccines, and it’s about half mercury, by weight. The toxicity of the mercury in thimerisol is currently being debated, but no matter which side of the debate you fall on, here’s some good news: Some influenza vaccines do not contain thimerisol, so you have options if you want to get a flu shot but don’t want to also get a dose of mercury.
The bad news is that mercury-free shots can be difficult to locate, and some doctors don’t know which type they have. In some states, the mercury-free versions are reserved for Medicaid patients. The FDA has a lot of thimerosal information on its Web site, including a list that shows you some of the vaccines that do not contain the substance. Check out www.fda.gov/cber/vaccine/thimerosal.htm.
Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccines: Many forms of the DTP vaccine, which is commonly given to infants, contain both aluminium and formaldehyde. Some people argue that the amounts of these toxins in the vaccine are minimal and don’t cause any problems; others contend that the substances are dangerous no matter how small the amount.
Polio vaccines: Many of the polio vaccines made today are processed through the cells of Green Monkey kidneys. In previous decades, monkey viruses have contaminated polio vaccine doses, and those doses were given to the general public before the virus was discovered. Many researchers claim that the problem is behind us, but some scientists believe we still need to be concerned.
Hepatitis B vaccines: Most of the controversy surrounding vaccines for hepatitis B centers on the use of the vaccine in children. U.S. government data has shown that children under the age of 14 are as much as three times more likely to suffer adverse effects from the hepatitis B vaccine as they are to catch the disease in the absence of a vaccination.