Commentary

Mercurial Logic

Hilton P. Terrell, MD, PhD


Some of those agencies which fancy themselves as legitimate controllers of medical care have shot themselves in the foot. Vaccination authorities decided some time ago that the hepatitis B immunization series should begin in the newborn period, despite very low risk of hepatitis B during the pediatric years and uncertainty as to the residual protection when those infants enter the years of increased risk from medical occupations, IV drug abuse, and promiscuous sexual practices.

State educational agencies quickly added hepatitis B to their long list of immunizations required for entry into day care or school, coercing parents out of one more of their ever shorter list of decisional prerogatives. Other government agencies have long fulminated against mercury in the environment, making the absurd assumption that there is no threshold exposure beneath which the element is safe.

Recently, an alert somebody noted that the preservative in the vaccine for hepatitis B contains thimerosal, a mercury compound.1 Calculating the mercury exposure per unit of body weight of newborns, the absurdly low acceptable amounts were transgressed. The vaccine might cause mercury toxicity! We are now told to wait until the infant is two months old before beginning the three shot series. They are working on a mercury-free vaccine.

Now, this collision between two elements of central control is only a fender-bender. We are assured, "...no known harm has occurred...," and that is due to theoretical concerns. It is interesting to stand by and listen to the investigators at the scene of the collision. The U.S. Surgeon General says, "The risk of devastating childhood diseases from failure to vaccinate far outweighs the minimal, if any, risk of exposure to cumulative levels of mercury in vaccines."

One is tempted to step out into the broken glass in the street and ask these investigating officers, "Why cannot the same reasoning be applied to other minimal risks? Why can't I legally omit putting erythromycin ointment on the eyelids of a newborn baby whose chaste mother was screened during pregnancy for sexually transmitted diseases? Why can't the industry down the road legally discharge 3 milligrams of mercury into the sewage system each day? Why can't I legally drop an aluminum pull tab from a soft drink can into the Atlantic Ocean nine miles offshore?"

Clearly, the keepers want to play by different rules than they impose on the kept.

References

1. Family Practice Reporter, August 1999, p. 1.

Dr. Terrell practices family medicine in Florence, South Carolina and is a member of the Editorial Board of the Medical Sentinel.

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2000;5(2):66. Copyright©2000 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)