Oh Mercy, Mercury.

by Julia Gomez

“People who don’t get vaccinated are potential trouble.” Said Bill Nye in an interview with Build Series. In my article, Autism - A Sharp look, I addressed the controversial topic of vaccines causing autism. There, I wrote scientists are now looking towards genetics and environmental factors being likely to blame for autism, however people still accuse a chemical used to preserve vaccines as the cause.

Thimerosal is the kind of mercury used as a preservative in some vaccines. Doctors recommend pregnant women choose to eat fish with lower levels of mercury to limit their exposure. So why is it in vaccines given to children? Even Robert F. Kennedy said “For 33 years I have been working to get mercury out of fish. Nobody has ever called me anti-fish. And because I want mercury out of vaccines, I should not be called anti-vaccine.”Well, the mercury found in specific kinds of fish, like tuna, is a methyl-mercury. Thimerosal is an ethyl-mercuryThough they seem similar, the difference lies in their chemical structure.They’re both compounds that contain mercury however thanks to the other elements found in the mix, they affect the human body differently. Methyl-mercury contains one carbon atom, one mercury atom and three hydrogen atoms while ethyl-mercury contains two carbon atoms, one mercury atom, and six hydrogen atoms. Though the difference is slight, it allows ethyl-mercury to leave the body much quicker than Methyl Mercury, giving it little chance to cause any harm to the body.

    a. Chemical Structure of methyl-mercury

b. ​Chemical Structure of ethyl-mercury.

It may seem unlikely that merely adding a carbon atom and three extra hydrogen atoms could make any change, but it does.  Take table salt, the kind that can be found in abundance at any fast food joint.  Table salt is a commodity most used to cook.  The flavorful white crystals can easily change the taste of Coq au Vin or a batch of McDonald’s French fries.  Most people don’t even think of its scientific name, Sodium Chloride.  Pure sodium is incredibly unstable, if it’s added to water it catches fire and explodes! Chlorine is a noxious gas which, during World War One, was used as a weapon of mass destruction, killing thousands. Yet, these two elements can come together to form a delicious additive that can be found in most American home sand, in moderation, will usually cause no harm to a person. The same applies for ThimerosalPure mercury would negatively affect anyone, but once its structure is changed and other elements are added, low doses’ effects on the human body are minimal, if any at all.

The FDA writes “A robust body of peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted in the U.S. and other countries support the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines. Many studies have shown zero links between Thimerosal and autism. However, due to the public’s concerns, all the vaccines recommended before the age of 7 and vaccines meant for adolescents and adults have versions that are created without the preservative.

Today, the resurgence of preventable diseases, like measles, are gravely worrying scientist and health care providers all over America. Due to Andrew Wakefield, who had his medical license revoked after he published a study to the Lancelet linking Autism to the MMR vaccine that was later proven fraudulent and retracted, along with Jenny McCarthy, an actress, model, TV personality and former Playboy bunny with no medical training who actively promotes going vaccine-free, and many other public figures, including the president of the United States of America, fear of vaccinations is at an all-time high.

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