By William George
As county health officer, I must respond to Gayle Hayley's concerns and fears regarding the flu vaccine. This is a pretty serious topic, as influenza is attributed to over 36,000 deaths in the U.S. yearly and the flu vaccine is very effective in preventing illness from the flu virus. Almost every year, influenza claims the life of at least one Carbon County resident. Most people survive the flu, but 10 days missing work or school and often a longer recovery period takes its toll on communities throughout our country.
So how about thimerosal? Is the mercury found in this preservative harmful to our children and us? Fortunately we now have good scientific studies (not done by drug companies), which weigh in on this legitimate concern.
Mercury is one of those elements that is naturally present in our soil, water, and some foods. Without discussing the different forms of mercury, I think it's accurate to say that our bodies break down and eliminate smaller concentrations of mercury but large amounts (found in some seafoods and older vaccines and meds) can cause health problems--especially to our nervous system. The amounts of thimerosal found in some of today's vaccines are 1/100 the amount used in the past. Numerous studies recently published in the journal Pediatrics (2009, 2010) showed no increase risk of autism or neurological injury to thousands of children who received this low concentration of thimerosal. Similar evidence can be found in the 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine, a 2003 study by the CDC and the Sept 2007 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of safety, more "thimerosal free" vaccines are now available. If you're still concerned about the risk of mercury exposure, ask your clinic if they use "single dose vials." Most of these types of flu vaccines have very trace amounts or no thimerosal present. Large amounts of "thimerosal free" flu vaccine are available in Red Lodge and Carbon County.
So, stay well. Keep your hands washed and sneeze into your sleeve. Consider the flu shot -- it's safe and effective. If you think you are having symptoms of the flu, see your health care provider in the first 2 days of illness for possible treatment or stay home and give your loved one gentle suggestions to make you lots of "flu fighting" chicken soup and hot tea.
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