More children than ever before are expected to get the flu vaccine for the 2004-2005 flu season, both because of new recommendations and because last year’s rough flu season still lingers in many people’s memories. Preservative-free flu vaccine is available — for those who ask for it before the supply is already committed.
A small amount of a form of mercury called thimerosal is still used as a preservative in multi-dose vials of the vaccine, which still accounts for most doses given. I see no reason to choose these added-mercury-containing preparations any longer, especially for young children.
The flu tends to strike the elderly and young children (and those with other diseases) hardest. For healthy children who will be 6 to 23 months old during the flu season, the benefits of the flu vaccine can be significant. It’s a good time now to ask your doctor about going perservative-free for next fall. Aventis-Pasteur makes the only preservative-free version approved in the U.S. for children 6 thru 23 months. For older children and adults, there are two additional options without added mercury: a single-dose injection made by Chiron Corp. and the FluMist nasal spray vaccine made by a Wyeth-MedImmune collaboration. The flu vaccine was one of the last of the commonly used vaccines to offer a version without added mercury preservative. Parents deserve to know in time that there is a choice between different vaccines.