Monday, March 3, 2008

Is Aluminum the New Thimersal?

Excerpt taken from article by Dr. Robert W. Sears Issue 146, January/February 2008

Calculating Aluminum in Vaccines
Here are the current levels of aluminum per shot of the following vaccines, as listed on each vaccine's packaging:

  • DTaP (for Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis): 170–625 mcg, depending on manufacturer
  • Hepatitis A: 250 mcg
  • Hepatitis B: 250 mcg
  • HIB (for meningitis; PedVaxHib brand only): 225 mcg
  • HPV: 225 mcg
  • Pediarix (DTaP–Hepatitis B–Polio combination): 850 mcg
  • Pentacel (DTaP–HIB–Polio combination): 1500 mcg
  • Pneumococcus: 125 mcg

In other words, a newborn who gets a Hepatitis B injection on day one of life would receive 250 mcg of aluminum. This would be repeated at one month with the next Hep B shot. When, at two months, a baby gets its first big round of shots, the total dose of aluminum could vary from 295 mcg (if a non-aluminum HIB and the lowest-aluminum brand of DTaP are used) to a whopping 1225 mcg (if the Hep B vaccine is given along with the brands with the highest aluminum contents). If the Pentacel combo vaccine is given along with the Hep B and Pneumococcus vaccines, the total aluminum dose could be as high as 1875 mcg. These doses are repeated at four and six months. With most subsequent rounds of shots, a child would continue to get some aluminum throughout the first two years. But the FDA recommends that premature babies, and anyone with impaired kidney function, receive no more than 10 to 25 mcg of injected aluminum at any one time.

As a medical doctor, my first instinct was to worry that these aluminum levels far exceed what may be safe for babies. My second instinct was to assume that the issue had been properly researched, and that studies had been done on healthy infants to determine their ability to rapidly excrete aluminum. My third instinct was to search for these studies. So far, I have found none. It's likely the FDA thinks that the kidneys of healthy infants work well enough to excrete aluminum before it can circulate through the body, accumulate in the brain, and cause toxic effects. However, I can find no references in FDA documents that show that using aluminum in vaccines has been tested and found to be safe.

So I did what any pediatrician would do. I turned to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), who in 1996 published a policy statement, "Aluminum Toxicity in Infants and Children," that made the following points:

  • Aluminum can cause neurologic harm.
  • A study from 30 years ago showed that human adults increase their urine excretion of aluminum when exposed to higher levels of the metal, which suggests that adults can clear out excess aluminum.
  • Adults taking aluminum-containing antacids don't build up high levels of aluminum in their bodies.
  • Reports of infants with healthy kidneys show elevated blood levels of aluminum from taking antacids.
  • People with kidney disease who build up bloodstream levels of aluminum greater than 100 mcg per liter are at risk of toxicity.
  • The toxic threshold of aluminum in the bloodstream may be lower than 100 mcg per liter.
  • The buildup of aluminum in tissues has been seen even in patients with healthy kidneys who receive IV solutions containing aluminum over extended periods.5
However, nowhere in this paper was there any mention of aluminum in vaccines.

To put this in perspective: Because the body of the average adult contains about 5 liters of blood, receiving more than 500 mcg of aluminum in the bloodstream all at once will be toxic if the kidneys aren't working well. (Toxicity has also been seen in patients with healthy kidneys.) Because a newborn's body contains about a liter (300 milliliters) of blood, more than 30 mcg of aluminum floating around in the bloodstream could be toxic if the baby's kidneys aren't working well. The body of a toddler or preschool-age child contains about 1 liter of blood, so more than 100 mcg in his system could be toxic—and, as we've seen, babies can receive more than 1000 mcg of injected aluminum all at one time. Fortunately, this amount doesn't all go into the blood at once, but is slowly diffused into the bloodstream over a period of time from the muscle or skin where it was injected.

But that is the main point of this article. No one has measured the levels of aluminum absorption by the bloodstream when it is injected into the skin and muscle of infants, or the levels of excretion from the body via urination. All of the FDA and AAP documents that I've read state that aluminum might be a problem, but that they haven't studied it yet, so we should limit the amount of aluminum included in injectable solutions. But, again, no one is talking about the levels of aluminum in vaccines.

What I think may have happened is that because aluminum used to be found in only one vaccine—DTP, an older version of the current DTaP vaccine—no one thought much about it. Then, in the 1980s, the PedVaxHib brand of HIB meningitis vaccine was released, which also included aluminum; but other brands of HIB vaccine did not, so again, no one thought much about it. In the 1990s, the Hepatitis B vaccine began to be widely used; in the 2000s, the Pneumococcus vaccine; and, more recently, the Hepatitis A vaccine. Administering one aluminum-containing vaccine at a time involves only a small amount of the metal; administering four such vaccines simultaneously is a different story. It seems this issue has simply escaped everyone's attention. Or has it?

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