Amongst all of the alarm about whether or not to get the flu vaccine, I think it’s important to keep matters in their proper perspective. Influenza (“seasonal flu”) is a serious infection that results in about 36,000 deaths per year in the USA alone. The new variant, called H1N1 (swine flu) is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, young children and teenagers; all groups that are particularly prone to fear about mercury toxicity.
The injectible flu vaccines involve placing a small amount of killed virus into your muscle in order for your immune cells to react and create antibodies. These antibodies are then about 90% effective in preventing you from becoming infected with the flu virus if you’re exposed to people with the infection. Unfortunately, a preservative is necessary to prevent contamination from occurring when multi-dose vials are used. That’s the reason that the mercury containing preservative called thimerosal is placed within the vaccine.
Thimerosal is a preservative used since the 1930’s. It does contain mercury but is used in very low concentration. In fact, the vaccine uses 0.01% thimerosal which translates to about 25 micrograms of mercury per dose. Ironically, a typical 6 oz can of light tuna contains about the same amount of mercury. Yet many people consume tuna for it’s health benefits without thinking about the possible toxicity. I encourage my patients to think of the flu vaccine in a similar fashion. The health benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the potential risk.
As a matter of perspective, I am firmly in favor of minimizing our daily exposure to toxic substances. In fact, this has been a central theme of my medical practice and the books that I’ve written. One step you can take is to request the single dose flu vaccine (where available) which is free of thimerosal. And for those that would like to obtain a more accurate estimate of their routine exposure to mercury, check out the Natural Resources Defense Council’s calculator to estimate your body burden level.