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Study Adds to Evidence of Vaccine Safety

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A new study conducted in Italy adds to growing evidence that a mercury-based preservative once used in many vaccines doesn’t hurt children. The study, which was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has drawn praise from outside experts.

In the early 1990s, thousands of healthy Italian babies in a study of whooping cough vaccines got two different amounts of the preservative thimerosal from all their routine shots. Ten years later, 1,403 of those children underwent a battery of brain function tests. Researchers found small differences in only two of 24 measurements and those “might be attributable to chance” they wrote. Only one case of autism was found and that was in the group that got the lower level of thimerosal. The full study is published in the February 2009 issue of Pediatrics.

“Put together with the evidence of all the other studies, this tells us there is no reason to worry about the effect of thimerosal in vaccines,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Alberto Tozzi of Bambino Gesue Hospital in Rome.

Dr. Tozzi said the debate over thimerosal and autism has been much stronger in the United States than Italy.

“It’s yet another well done, peer-reviewed research study that has demonstrated that there is no risk of any neurodevelopmental outcomes associated with thimerosal in vaccines,” said epidemiologist Jennifer Pinto-Martin of the University of Pennsylvania.

“This becomes the fourth study to look for subtle signs of mercury toxicity and show the answer was ‘no’” said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, author of a book on autism research and the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine.

Autism is a complex disorder featuring repetitive behaviors and poor social interaction and communications skills. Scientists generally believe genetics play a role in causing the disorder; a theory that thimerosal is to blame has been repeatedly discounted in scientific studies.

Thimerosal, used in some vaccines to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus, has not been used in U.S. childhood vaccines since 2001, except for certain flu shots. U.S. health officials recommended the removal of thimerosal as a precaution and to reduce the overall exposure of children to mercury.

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