The Public Health Council of New Jersey has approved a disastrous measure mandating influenza vaccines for infants and children. I think they are seriously in error and underestimate the power of the people.
The State of New Jersey has made news again, this time as the first state to authorize mandatory influenza vaccine for all infants and children entering preschool, daycare or public school. This measure will affect babies as young as 6 months old. While the regulation will not be in force until September 2008 according to numerous reports, it is unclear if the measure is legally enforceable. There are indications Governor Corzine is reconsidering his position on the issue, and we are working hard to ensure an open, public debate on the scientific merits of the recommendation.
There are two main points of concern. First, it is estimated that over 90% of the current flu vaccine supply still contains thimerosal, a preservative that is 50% mercury by weight and which has controversially been linked to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Whether or not you believe thimerosal causes autism, I’ve never found anyone who believes it’s a healthy thing to give to humans. Are there alternatives? Of course… Sanofi Pasteur (manufacturer of Fluzone) is able to produce a preservative-free flu vaccine. It’s a single-dose vaccine, as opposed to Sanofi’s other Fluzone product, which contains 25 mcg/dose (0.5ml) in a multi-dose vial. That amount of mercury is well in excess of EPA safety limits by weight. You’d have to weight 250 kg (over 500 pounds) to be "allowed" to receive this much mercury; why you’d want to is beyond me. Are you confused yet? Imagine what it’s like in many pediatric offices around the country. Many doctors can’t get enough of any type of flu vaccine for their patients, never mind all thimerosal-free.
Secondly, it is unclear whether the flu vaccine is effective for children, especially those under two. The Cochrane Database, perhaps medicine’s most revered scientific, evidence-based review body, conducted a systematic review of this issue in 2006, concluding, "It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given recent recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months old in the USA and Canada. If immunisation in children is to be recommended as public-health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required." This statement to me is not an endorsement of public health policies mandating influenza vaccines for young children.
This whole business is thankfully shining a bright light on the horribly flawed process that is immunization policy formation in my beloved home state. Who actually drafts these regulations, who approves them and how enforceable they are, no one seems to know. The Public Health Council, Commissioner Fred Jacobs told me on the phone, merely makes recommendations. Who has final say? The Governor? The Commissioner (who’s leaving at the end of the year, by the way)? The legislature?
I think the people of New Jersey do. We should not forget these words:
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
– President Abraham Lincoln, from the Gettysburg Address