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  • California lifted ban on thimerosal in H1N1 vaccine for pregnant women

    More than 800 Americans have died from H1N1 influenza this year. The risk of H1N1 related mortality is six times greater among pregnant women - 28 pregnant women have died and another 100 have been admitted to intensive care units. The New York Times recently ran an article, Flu Story, exploring the impact of H1N1 for one pregnant woman fortunate enough to survive.

    The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommend all pregnant women be vaccinated for both seasonal influenza and H1N1. The federal government promised 120 million doses of H1N1 vaccine by the end of October; however, only 13 million are currently available. This vaccine shortage leaves hundreds of thousands of pregnant women at risk.

    Since 2004, when Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 2942, pregnant women and children under the age of three in California have only received thimerosal-free vaccines. As the supply of H1N1 vaccine is far lower than anticipated, the Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency has granted an exemption to AB 2943, allowing pregnant women and young children to have access to thimerosal containing H1N1 vaccines. The exemption will be in place until November 30, 2009 when the need will be re-assessed.

    Is it safe for a pregnant woman to receive a thimerosal containing vaccine? Thimerosal was removed from all pediatric vaccines in 2001 and since 2004 no pregnant woman in California has received a thimerosal containing vaccine, yet the rate of autism remains unchanged. The original studies that raised questions about the thimerosal-autism link have since been discredited and ten convincing studies have been published in leading medical journals indicating there is no link between vaccines and autism.

    Why was the preservative removed if it is safe? Back when the initial concerns were raised, the studies disproving the association between thimerosal and autism had not been performed.

    Pregnant women face significant risks if they develop H1N1 influenza. While the California Department of Public Health recommends providers prioritize thimerosal-free H1N1 vaccines for pregnant woman, there is simply not enough to go around. The only way for all pregnant women in California to receive the vaccine is to suspend AB 2943.

    All pregnant women are urged to talk with their OB/GYN, certified nurse midwife, or certified midwife about H1N1 vaccination.

    For more info: contact www.cdc.goc/h1n1 or the California Department of Public Health’s Immunization Branch at (510) 620-3737 or


    Remember, this column does not represent individual medical advice

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