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By thisistwitchy  •  March 8, 2005 06:43 AM

Myron Levin of the Los Angeles Times reports:

Drug maker Merck & Co. continued to supply infant vaccine containing a mercury-based preservative [thimerosal] for two years after declaring that it had eliminated the chemical.

In September 1999, amid rising concern about the risks of mercury in childhood vaccines, Merck announced that the Food and Drug Administration had approved a preservative-free version of its hepatitis B vaccine.

“Now, Merck’s infant vaccine line,” the company’s press release said, “is free of all preservatives.”

But Merck continued to distribute vaccine containing the chemical known as thimerosal, along with the new product, until October 2001, according to an FDA letter sent in response to a congressional inquiry….

Rep. Dave Weldon, a Florida Republican and a physician, said what Merck did was “misleading.”

“You had people literally into 2002 getting shots with mercury, having been told it was all taken out in 1999,” he said. “There should have been a much more cautious announcement that we’re going to eliminate the mercury over time.” The FDA letter was sent to Weldon in June 2003 in response to his questions about progress in removing mercury from vaccines.

One month ago, Levin reported on a leaked Merck memo from 1991 showing that the company was aware at that time of concerns about thimerosal:

A memo from Merck shows that, nearly a decade before the first public disclosure, senior executives were concerned that infants were getting an elevated dose of mercury in vaccinations containing a widely used sterilizing agent.

The March 1991 memo, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, said that 6-month-old children who received their shots on schedule would get a mercury dose as much as 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish.

“When viewed in this way, the mercury load appears rather large,” said the memo from Dr. Maurice Hilleman, an internationally renowned vaccinologist. It was written to the president of Merck’s vaccine division.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical executives are scratching their heads wondering why their industry has a bad reputation.

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