Friday, August 18, 2006

Vaccinating Your Children: Part #1

What is this mercury stuff anyway?

We recently had the wonderful news that my sister is pregnant! The first question that comes to my mind after hearing that is "So are you going to have him or her vaccinated?" It's a little early in her pregnancy to worry about that, or to bug her about it, but there is a lot of controversy about this floating around out there and I'm going to address it with her a little at a time. When my daughter was born 6 years ago I read a lot on the topic and decided the fears were unwarranted. 2 years ago when my son was born I decided the same after another lengthy research session. My 2 kids are wonderful, smart and funny and developing just fine thank you. So I guess anecdotal evidence doesn't prove anything, and I suppose that in another year my son could take a dive into autism as that is the age when it's most common to get a diagnosis. I'll certainly post about that if it happens! If it does happen though I don't think I'll be able to pin it on his vaccinations.

There is a long list of factoids that I plan to share with her, ultimately it's her and her husbands decision of what to do and I have never really had too much influence on what she has decided to do ;) So dont think I have any ability to bully or unduly influence her. I feel that others have unduly influenced her though since one of her friends works with autistic children and has shared many scary stories where she tries to link getting the vaccinations to the children succumbing to autism. The timing of these 2 things is enough to make one suspicious. But the most famous logical fallacy there is assumes causation from correlation. But we KNOW from a million other things in our lives that just because 2 events happen near to each other in time does not mean that 1 caused the other.

In any case, the very first bit of education will be about just what is Mercury, how much of it is around us all the time and how much is in a vaccination and why is it dangerous or not dangerous.

In fish and the environment the FDA measures an organic form of mercury called "methyl mercury" as this is the form it can take that is most toxic to humans. According to the FDA you can safely eat 2 servings of fish with lower than the 1 part per million of methyl mercury a week, but asks you to limit your higher level fish meals to 1 a week, things like albacore tuna and swordfish. You body can process and dispose of that much mercury without any harm to yourself. They do make a distinction between an adult portion and a child's portion though.

One of the reasons that methyl mercury is so nasty is that it hangs around in the body for 8 to 10 days or more. It is filtered out of you rather slowly. So if you eat a lot of fish with high levels of mercury it can build up in you to toxic levels. I can only find 1 reference to an actual case of mercury poisoning in the US from eating fish. it was a lady who ate 2 or 3 servings of swordfish every day for 10 months. It was part of some fad diet and it took that long for any symptoms to develop and even after consuming that much of it for so long they were so mild that she was misdiagnosed several times as the classic symptoms hadn't developed yet. After stopping the diet she recovered just find.

"trace" amounts of mercury are in everything. They are in the soil, in the earth, in the air and the water and in just about everything we eat. Never has any information surfaced that a trace amount of mercury can cause anything at all whatsoever. The folks that want to blame mercury for the "autism epidemic" will tell you that no study has ever found trace amounts of mercury to be safe either. But if it were causing problems it would have been a candidate for study, we just dont tend to spend our energy and resources studying things that are in the environment naturally that cause no problems. Mercury has always been a part of the environment. There are hotspots due to industrial emissions or natural deposits, but overall it's everywhere and life has continued on the planet just fine in the presence of it. The worst industrial contamination story I have found took place in Japan, where a factory was dumping huge amounts of it in to the ocean and local fishermen and their families were getting very sick and some even died. After the plant was cleaned up the levels in the fish returned to normal and were safe to eat again. In the early days of "doctoring" HUGE amounts of metallic mercury were given to "patients" to drink! Though this did nothing to heal the patient, it also didn't cause permanent harm to them. Only to the "doctors" who worked with it constantly and breathed the fumes.

The chemical that was used as a preservative in the vaccinations in question is thimerisol. The organic mercury molecule in this is different than methyl mercury, it's actually "ETHYL mercury" Which is less toxic than the more common methyl configuration because it is excreted from your body much faster. The entire amount may be gone in 3 or 4 days as opposed to the week or longer that is necessary to get rid of a similar amount of methyl mercury. The less time that it's in your system, the less damage it can do.

All of this information is moot because childhood vaccinations no longer contain thimerisol! It's still important to understand the above as we go forward and explore more of the anti-vaccination arguments though. The anti-vaccination folks will also tell you that they actually aren't totally free from thimerisol, the drug companies admit to a "trace" amount still in them. The reason for this is that some of the components from which they are made are preserved with it. But when mixed and processed with everything else it reduces the level to a "trace" and we've already covered the fact that there is ALWAYS a trace amount in everything. You body knows how to eliminate a trace amount safely. There are some very toxic substances out there that even a trace amount of can kill you. Thankfully they are very rare, or man made and mercury isn't one of them. Our environment is not a horrifically toxic place even with a long list of trace elements.

Tomorrow I'll summarize what I've been able to glean about "the Autism Epidemic" That sounds like fun...

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