WHO worries mercury treaty could affect costs, availability of vaccines

By: Helen Branswell, The Canadian Press

The World Health Organization is trying to fend off an effort to include a mercury derivative used in vaccines from being banned in a global treaty on mercury currently under negotiation.

The next round of talks for the proposed binding treaty begin on Oct. 31, and the Geneva-based UN health agency is trying to lobby for support of its position that banning thimerosal would be a mistake.

Thimerosal is a preservative used in many vaccines that are shipped to doctors and clinics in multi-dose vials.

Without a preservative, these vaccines would have to be produced in single dose formulations, which would drive up their cost considerably and create logistical problems, especially in developing countries.

David Wood, a WHO vaccines expert, said health ministries in participating countries may not have been aware of the fact that language that would ban thimerosal has been put into a draft treaty for the coming round of talks, which are being run by the UN Environment Program.

“Countries need to have their positions ready for that discussion,” said Wood, co-ordinator of the quality, safety and standards team in WHO’s immunizations, vaccines and biologicals department.

“That’s part of our concern, that there could be decisions that are made that inadvertently could have a health impact. We just want to make sure that all of the relevant information and the facts are considered.”

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