Flu Vaccines Come With Risks and Chemicals

In May 1796, milkmaid Sarah Nelmes had a rash. She consulted English country doctor Edward Jenner, who diagnosed cowpox, rather than the often-fatal smallpox.

At the time, local midwives counselled that if a woman caught cowpox she couldn't get smallpox. Jenner decided to test that theory. He needed someone who had never had either disease, and he chose James Phipps, his gardener's eight-year old son. In mid-May, Jenner made a few scratches on Phipps's arm and rubbed Nelmes's scabs into them. The boy became mildly ill with cowpox but recovered within a week. Two months later, Jenner again scratched the lad and contaminated the wound with smallpox. He remained well.

Never in his wildest dreams could Jenner have envisioned the multibillion-dollar business that vaccination would become 200 years later.

Today, there is more to vaccines than the live or dead viruses in them. Vaccines are a complex mix of viral proteins stewing in a chemical broth of "excipients".

Excipients are additives and the residuals of chemicals used in manufacturing vaccines. Those allowed by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include thimerosal, formalin and other formaldehyde preparations, as well as aluminum hydroxide, aluminum phosphate, and aluminum potassium sulfate, all three of which are used to cause an inflammatory response at the injection site so that there is an increased blood supply in the area.

Dyes, antibiotics, viral inactivators, glycerine solvents, hydrogen peroxide, hydrochloric acid, sodium bisulfite, sodium hydroxide, polysorbate 80, streptomycin, neomycin, and a host of phosphate buffers are just a few of the excipients in common use. Monosodium glutamate is used as a stabilizer in the chickenpox vaccine. Chick embryos, monkey kidney, lung tissues of fetal rhesus monkeys, mouse brain, cow substrates, and human tissues are also used as vaccine growth mediums.

In 2001, Reuters reported the FDA's approval of the use of tumour cells as vaccine growth media. Researchers and physicians raised concerns last June at a U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIAID division) conference that the use of bovine (cow) substrate in the manufacture of some common childhood vaccines might lead to a future rise of variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease because the vaccines were cultured in cow serum not tested for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), or mad-cow disease.

Prior to the 2002 passage of the U.S.'s post--9/11 Homeland Security Act, plaintiffs from Canada and 25 states filed class-action lawsuits against the makers of thimerosal. Thimerosal is an ethylmercury derivative used as a preservative in many vaccines. Eli-Lilly won approval to use thimerosal as a preservative based on a single, flawed 1930 safety study conducted on 22 patients suffering from fatal cases of meningococcal meningitis. Removed in 1999 from most Canadian childhood vaccines, thimerosal remains in shots for hepatitis B and the flu. Some researchers have linked autism in infants and young children to thimerosal, while other studies claim the link is unsubstantiated.

In the 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called for the elimination of thimerosal, as repeated immunization could result in unacceptable mercury levels in infants. Four years ago, the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons unanimously called for a moratorium on mandatory vaccination, citing inadequate safety trials, lack of informed consent, and conflicts of interests in the vaccine-approval process.

B.C. uses two flu vaccines: Fluviral and Vaxigrip. Both are grown in chick embryos and both contain thimerosal. Vaxigrip contains less thimerosal than Fluviral and contains viral proteins of influenza A/New Caledonia, influenza A/Wyoming, and influenza B/Jiangsu, as well as sodium phosphate buffered, isotonic salt, formaldehyde, trace amounts of neomycin (an antibiotic), sucrose (a sugar), and Triton X-100 (aka polyethylene glycol p-isoctylphenyl ether).

On the Winlaw, B.C.--coordinated Vaccine Risk Awareness Network's Web site (, U.S. doctor Sherri Tenpenny claims that Triton X-100 is for research purposes only and should not be used for human or drug use.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control epidemiologist Dr. Danuta Skowronski calls that claim "nonsense". "Triton X has been used for years," Skowronski told the Straight in a phone interview. "It's a very important part of manufacturing vaccines used to chemically disrupt the virus so people have fewer reactions."

According to Health Canada, since 2000/01 an "ocular-respiratory syndrome" characterized by coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, red and itchy eyes, and/or facial swelling within 24 hours has been noted following flu vaccination in healthy adults, but such reports seem to be on the decline.

The list of potential adverse reactions for all vaccines is long, and a September 2004 study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health has even raised the spectre of a link between hepatitis B vaccine and multiple sclerosis, although a 2001 study seemed to show no such link.

"Nothing in life is 100 percent safe and you must weigh the benefits versus the risks," Skowronski said. "Immunization saves lives and is one of the most successful public-health policies worldwide."

She claimed that concerns about thimerosal are unfounded but admitted that public pressure led to the elimination of thimerosal from childhood vaccines in Canada. "A breastfed baby will get more mercury from its mother in the first six months of life than from a flu shot. Most of the mercury we get is from our diet," she added.

Judging by recent media reports, you'd think Canada and the U.S. are on the verge of a global disease disaster. People from as far away as Florida flocked to B.C. for flu shots because the of the much-noted U.S. vaccine shortage.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has a weekly on-line flu watch that provides information on the flu around the world. Between August 22 and October 16, of 5,297 Canadian tests for the virus, only 28 were positive for influenza A and two for influenza B. *

The incorrect address for stress-management coach Suzanne Price appeared in last week's column. The address is www.one-minute-stress-manager.com/.