This stuff is like some weird virus that replicates itself despite every known remedy.
Was this sort of urban myth so common and persistent before the damn net?
I think so, yeah. I took a class on "Urban Legends" in the early 90's, that had a textbook and everything -- basically analog Snopes. (The textbook: "The Mexican Pet." Leafed through it recently and a lot of those old gems are still circulating...)
(analog isn't the right word... I mean non-techie)
Thiomersal has been known to be a risk for a long time, anyway. Contact lens products were advertising that they were thiomersal-free as long ago as the early 1980s. (Thiomersal is commonly known in the U.S. as thimerosal.--thiomersal is the INN, the International Non-Proprietary Name.) According to what i've been able to find online, ethylmercury preservative chemicals were identified as a contact risk (i.e., contact with the skin, eyes or alimentary tract) in the early 1970s, and were identified as an injection risk in sub-cu injection by the mid-1970s. Studies in Sweden, Denmark and Germany concluded that this could by obviated with intra-muscular injections rather than sub-cu, but by then, European pharmas were no longer using ethylmercury-based preservatives in drugs or vaccines for injection or ingestion. Much of the on-going brouhaha arises from a decision by the Federal government in the 1990s to pay claims of families which had brought suit over thiomersal-preserved vaccines without stipulation or prejudice (which means they didn't admit that there was a known link between autism and thiomersal, nor did they abandon the right to deny cases in the future). Since, then, many people have claimed that as a basis to say that there is such a link. North American pharmas have stopped using thiomersal in injectables beginning in the 1990s, and as of 2001, it is believed by Federal health agencies in the U.S. and Canada that all vaccines are thiomersal-free.
This had been an interesting thread for the reading it has instigated. Chemistry is the only science at which i ever did well, so this sort of **** fascinates me.
Yes, urban legends were probably worse before the world wide web, because it was difficult to debunk them. To repeat myself, the decision of the U.S. Federal government to pay claims without prejudice or stipulation (basically, a case of "OK, OK, here's your goddamned money, now stop bothering us!") has lead to the continued "legs" of this story.
This line is from a page about the care of soft contact lenses:
Solutions that Use thimerosal as a preservative should generally be avoided, as thimerosal causes allergic reactions in many people. (For this reason, it might be a good idea to avoid any solution with thimerosal.)
When i began to wear contact lenses in the 1980s, this was how i first heard of thiomersal.
This is from a UK site which provides patient information:
Allergic conjunctivitis - arises due to sensitivity to thiomersal, a preservative used in contact lens care solutions. This presents with redness, burning and itching which is worst on lens insertion and reduces over time. But diagnosis is tricky and the conjunctivitis may only gradually appear days or months after initial exposure. There will be evidence of perilimbal injection (i.e. redness just around the cornea). Treatment is avoidance of thiomersal; advise patients to visit their contact-lens provider for alternative lens care solutions.
Other information i've found so far on this shows that thiomersal was identified as an allergic irritant at least as early as 1981. It is rather disturbing to think that it was still being used as a preservative in vaccines well into the 1990s, given that it was already being eliminated from contact lens care products almost two decades earlier.
Just looked up "The Mexican Pet" and was reminded that it was third in a series, after "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" and "The Choking Doberman." From the preface to "The Mexican Pet":
First I wrote "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," about the scant three dozen or so classic urban legends that had been identified by earlier folklore scholars. Then came a sequel, "The Choking Doberman," with several dozen "new" urban legends sent to me by my faithful readers; this time, I thought, I had really done the definitive job on these true-sounding but utterly false stories that pass from person to person even in this modern day. But I was wrong again, as readers, students, friends, and acquaintances were quick to inform me. More stories arrived, and the result is this latest collection of about fifty even newer "new" urban legends... I'm beginning to wonder when it will all end.
It won't, dude, it won't.
Here is an article at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) about organomercurial preservative agents, and thiomersal in particular.
It appears from this that thiomersal was not listed by the FDA until 1999:
Under the FDA Modernization Act of 1997, the FDA compiled a list of regulated products containing mercury, including those with thimerosal (Federal Register 1999). It is important to note that this list was compiled in 1999; some products listed are no longer manufactured and many products have been reformulated without thimerosal.
That page contains tables of routinely recommended pediatric vaccines, and an "expanded" list of vaccines which shows their thiomersal content.
Ha . . . Wikipedia alleges that the first variant of the "vanishing hitchhiker" story appears in 1602.
Snopes says it goes back even further:
A protoype of the story shows up in the New Testament (Acts 8:26-39), in which an Ethiopian driving a chariot picks up the Apostle Philip, who baptizes him and then disappears.
It is rather disturbing to think that it was still being used as a preservative in vaccines well into the 1990s, given that it was already being eliminated from contact lens care products almost two decades earlier.
It's still used here in Europe in some products (concentration in cosmetics 0.007 %, in animal vaccines ... not sure about the concentration
, in vaccines for humans only in traces from the production process).
Wikipedia (German) notices that the discussion about autism is only/mainly in the USA; similar the Wikipedia entries in other languages.
I found it interesting that the Swedish, Danish and German studies of which i read resulted in recommendations of IM injection rather than sub-cu. A preference for an IM injection suggests that the chemical will predictably break down and be excreted (urine, likely) before reaching problematic concentrations. The studies returned results of 2% or less occurrence of side-effects, and residual concentrations at levels just barely sufficient to lead to those side-effects. I can think of no example, except perhaps an influenza inoculation, which would need to take effect immediately; if you were being vaccinated for plague, typhus or cholera before overseas travel, you would normally get the injections two or three weeks before travelling, giving sufficient time for reactions to occur, and more than enough time for an IM injection to take effect, and the organomercurial chemicals to be disposed of by the body.
Very interesting! I use contact lenses and do get red and irritated eyes, depending on what cleanser I use. I never checked for Thiomersal - now I will!
You bet, Boss . . . another thing is to be sure that the enzyme or cleaning or disinfectant agent is gone from the lenses. It's best to set it up so that the lenses are not in the cleaning solution any longer than necessary, and then can sit overnight in a sterile, normal saline. I don't use them any longer, but what i used to do was clean them, rinse them in saline and let them sit for 15 minutes, then dump that saline and put them in fresh saline and let them sit overnight.
I got the disposable kind on my last visit, and discovered that alternating pairs made a huge difference.
Apparently someone was worried.
Washington's hottest whodunit
Who turned the Homeland Security bill into the Eli Lilly Protection Act?
By Arianna Huffington
Dec 5, 2002 | Quick, somebody call Sherlock Holmes. Or at least the Hardy Boys. Or maybe even newly designated Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. There's a Washington mystery that needs solving.
Everyone in D.C., it seems, is utterly baffled as to how an ugly little provision shielding pharmaceutical behemoth Eli Lilly from billions in lawsuits filed by the parents of autistic children made its way, in the 12th hour, into, of all things, the 475-page Homeland Security bill.
"It's a mystery to us," shrugged Eli Lilly spokesman Rob Smith.
It's a mystery to us, too, echoed spokesmen for the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, and physician-turned-senator-turned-drug-company-shill Bill Frist, who had originally penned the Lilly-friendly provision for a different bill.
The haphazard lawmaking also proved baffling for pharmaceutical industry lobbyists, and for White House budget director Mitch Daniels, a former Lilly executive, who made a very public show of disavowing any knowledge of the amendment's mystifying genesis. Gosh, maybe the little provision just flew down from heaven. Or was immaculately conceived. Or maybe Osama bin Laden snuck over and planted the little public policy bomb himself.
The outrageous rider stuck onto the end of the Homeland Security bill provides security for Lilly from suits filed by the families of autistic children who believe that their kids' condition is linked to Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative made by Lilly that used to be a common ingredient in childhood vaccines.
But in a town where knowledge is power, and where there is no shortage of people willing to take credit for even the most minute accomplishment, there has been a sudden outbreak of people playing dumb. Official Washington is observing a code of omerta that makes the Sopranos look like the loose-lipped gals on "The View." In other words: Nobody's seen nothin'.
Here are the clues we have to work with: Over the Veterans Day weekend, GOP negotiators from the House and Senate hunkered down to finalize the details of the elephantine security bill. At some point -- no one is willing to say when -- someone -- no one is willing to say who -- inserted the Lilly provision -- though no one is willing to say why.
It's vital that we solve the mystery, even if you believe that the custom-made legislation is justified. We need to find out because this kind of behind-closed-doors monkey business is an affront to our democracy -- the very democracy this bill was theoretically designed to protect. Perhaps it should have been called "the Homeland and Lilly Protection Act."
"The ability," Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, told me, "of a special interest group to secretly insert provisions into law for its own narrow benefit and to the detriment of the public interest raises fundamental questions about the integrity of our government."
Kucinich has vowed to lead a challenge to congressional rules that permit our representatives to do the bidding of their deep-pocket donors away from the prying eyes of the public. At the most crucial part of the bill-drafting process -- when the language of the law is being finalized -- Washington's corporate alchemists work their black magic to turn legislative gold into self-preserving lead.
"It's a defect in the system," explains Kucinich. "When a bill goes into a conference committee, it gets yanked out of the sunlight and into the shadows. The conference process is a closed one, so you can go into a conference committee and basically add anything or take out anything you want and no one really knows. It transforms the legislature into a secret cabal."
So this fight is about a lot more than pushing for the repeal of the Lilly provision, something Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have promised to do when the 108th Congress convenes in January. It's about putting an end to the gaming of the system that is turning the legislative process into a prize-a-minute carnival for big contributors. "Inserting such favors for special interests in a bill is a directive that can only come from some very high places," Stabenow told me.
Intriguingly, Stabenow, McCain and Kucinich may have found an unlikely ally in their battle -- one with a very personal stake in the issue. It turns out that Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., the chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, has a grandson who first began showing symptoms of autism within days of receiving vaccinations containing Thimerosal. "He became radically different," says Burton, "banging his head against the wall, running around flapping his arms. Twenty years ago we had one in 10,000 children that they thought was autistic. Now, it's more than one out of 250."
This is clearly not a left-right issue. Any politician who has waxed lyrical about "accountability" and "transparency" -- that includes you, Mr. President -- owes it to the public to demand that Congress get to the bottom of just whose directive it was to insert into the Homeland Security bill a provision that has absolutely nothing to do with homeland security. And to find out whether the $1.6 million that Lilly contributed in the last election cycle -- 79 percent of which went to Republicans -- had anything to do with the inclusion of this designer provision. And, come to think of it, whether these donations had anything to do with the Bush administration asking a federal claims court to block public access to documents unearthed in over a thousand Thimerosal-related lawsuits.
For anyone remotely familiar with the ways of Washington -- and Sherlock Holmes -- the answer should be "elementary."
We're used to having pounds of fatty pork stirred into almost every recipe Congress dishes up. But the abuse of a bill about homeland security is especially distasteful. Washington's greedy corporate masters may finally have overreached. Their continued influence constitutes a clear and present danger to our security and if the president is serious about protecting the homeland, he should speak up.