Is There Mercury In The H1N1 Vaccine??

Dear Mamas,

I have a 5-year-old daughter and a  1-year-old daughter and just returned from a pediatric visit about my daughter’s cough. While I was there I got into a conversation with my doctor about the H1N1 vaccine (of course) and she told me she’s not vaccinating her own kids!

Later I asked one of the nurses in the office about mercury in the vaccine, since this is one of the things I worried about when mine  were getting their infant shots. She said that though the infant formulation is mercury-free, the vaccine for older (4 and up) kids DOES contain mercury. Now I’m completely worried and confused. Help!


Dear Terri,

The vaccine preservative you’re talking about is thimerosal, which contains a small amount of a mercury derivative.  This is indeed the substance that’s been so controversial during the past several years because of concerns that it may be related to an increase in autism.  After a healthy amount of rigorous research, the CDC and  the American Academy of Pediatrics have determined that there’s no evidence of a connection, but for many the worry remains.

The H1N1 vaccine is manufactured in several forms. One is a multi-dose vial that contains thimerosal to prevent the growth of bacteria and other microbes.  The vaccine also comes in a single-dose syringe, and this form does not contain thimerosal.  A third form is the nasal spray, which is also in single dose units with no thimerosal.  Though experts are convinced that both injectible forms (not the nasal spray, which contains live, weakened virus) are safe for pregnant women and small children, they are recommending the thimerosal-free formulation for those who are concerned.

Just so you know, a dose of the vaccine contains 25 micrograms of mercury, which is about half  of what’s in a can of tuna fish.  The EPA recommends eating no more than 14.5 micrograms per week.

Your pediatrician has made the decision to take a pass on the H1N1 vaccine for her kids for now, and that’s certainly a reasonable choice, though not the one I’ve made for my own.  There’s no right answer here, and everything we do in life has risks and benefits.

For me, the knowledge that hundreds of kids and young adults have died from this flu — a greater proportion than in the past — and none that we know have been harmed by the vaccine, pushed me over the line.  That doesn’t mean that mine is the only right decision, it’s just how my risk-benefit balance came out.

As long as you’re coming from an informed place, whatever you decide will be the right choice for your family.

~ the Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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One response to “Is There Mercury In The H1N1 Vaccine??”

  1. laura

    You say “none that we know have been harmed by the vaccine” – isn’t it a bit early to say this?

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