To the editor:
RE: "Safe injection fight," Aug. 31. It is really disappointing that Mark Hasiuk in his commentary on the Health Care Worker Influenza Prevention Policy would resurrect the now thoroughly debunked notion that the preservative thimerosal is somehow linked to autism. While it is true that in 1999 U.S. health authorities and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be removed from vaccines as a "precautionary measure," the impetus behind this was as much the concern that fear engendered by the claims that autism and thimerosal were linked would dissuade parents from having their children vaccinated as concern over the role that mercury might play.
This fear was subsequently realized and, along with the now discredited work by Andrew Wakefield, has been responsible for outbreaks and deaths among children as a direct result of diminished vaccine uptake.
It verges on irresponsible for Mr. Hasiuk not to have reported on the studies that were subsequently published that demonstrate a complete absence of correlation between thimerosal in vaccine and autism rates, or of measured mercury levels and autism, or of the pharmacokinetics that make such a link biologically implausible.
The policy that Mr. Hasiuk questions does not mandate influenza vaccination; health care workers will have a choice, if for medical or other reasons they choose not to be vaccinated they will be required to wear a mask in patient care areas during influenza season.
These measures will reduce the likelihood that they will transmit influenza to vulnerable patients. Should outbreaks occur despite these measures, unvaccinated workers who refuse to take antiviral medication and who cannot be reassigned to non-patient care areas, do run the risk of being sent home without pay. This is because of the ongoing risk they will pose to other vulnerable patients in the institution.
Transmission of influenza from health care workers to patients has been demonstrated and can result in significant morbidity and mortality in vulnerable patients. The provision of influenza vaccine to health care workers with patient contact is considered an essential component of the standard of care.
Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C. Health Officer Victoria, B.C.