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California

Ban on Mercury in Shots Is Passed

August 27, 2004|Myron Levin | Times Staff Writer

The state Assembly on Thursday voted to eliminate a mercury-based preservative from vaccines given to infants and pregnant women and sent the measure to the governor's office, where its fate is uncertain.

The vote was 48 to 21 in favor of the bill, which has drawn nationwide attention amid bitter conflict over possible risks from the chemical thimerosal, which is about half ethyl mercury. Earlier this week, the measure passed the state Senate, 22 to 13, despite opposition from leading vaccine maker Aventis Pasteur Inc.

Lawmakers "basically said no to special interests' profits and yes to children's health," said Rick Rollens, a Granite Bay father of an autistic son who lobbied for the bill. "We are going to work very diligently to convince the governor that this is in the best interest of children and pregnant women in California to sign this important measure."

Aventis Pasteur said in a prepared statement that it was disappointed with the vote but optimistic that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "will recognize the importance of maintaining public confidence in vaccines and will not sign this legislation."

A spokesman for the governor said Schwarzenegger had not taken a position on the bill, which is opposed by some members of his administration.

During the 1990s, millions of infants and toddlers were exposed to mercury above federal guidelines because of a rising number of routine shots in which thimerosal was a common ingredient used to prevent bacterial contamination.

Since 1999, the chemical has been reduced to trace levels in most pediatric vaccines. But more than 4,000 claims have been filed by parents of children with autism and other disorders asserting that their kids suffered brain damage from exposure to mercury-containing vaccines.

Vaccine makers and many health officials say there is no proof of a causal link between thimerosal and autism.

The bill would bar pregnant women and children under 3 years old from getting vaccines with more than trace levels of thimerosal after July 2006.

Aventis, the lone producer of flu vaccine for children 6 months through 23 months old, had warned that the bill "would curtail the access of Californians to needed vaccine" -- a claim denounced by supporters as a scare tactic.

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