Thimerosal, squalene and Guillain-Barré: Expert answers to your seasonal and H1N1 flu questions

by Boston Children's Hospital staff on October 2, 2009

McIntoshIn the last couple of weeks, Thrive has published several postings concerning the seasonal and H1N1 flu. Many of our readers have questions concerning the safety of these vaccines. We spoke to Children’s Hospital Boston’s Kenneth McIntosh, MD, a senior physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases. Here, he answers many of your questions, on everything from thimerosal and squalene to Guillain-Barre and how many shots is too many for a baby.

Does the H1N1 vaccine contain thimerosal?

Some doses of the H1N1 vaccine will contain thimerosal, the preservative wrongly linked to autism. When we talked earlier this week on this blog and our Facebook page about whether people should have their children vaccinated for H1N1, several readers, including several clinicians, chimed in to say that they would not get the H1N1 vaccine if it contained thimerosal. But it’s important to understand that the overwhelming scientific evidence (here and here) shows that thimerosal does not cause autism. If you want more information on this topic, the CDC has a lot of great information on their site.

I am concerned about the use of squalene in the H1N1 vaccine this year and have heard it is more dangerous (especially for our children) than getting the flu.

The vaccines that are being used in this country against H1N1 do not include any squalene, which is a molecule that is present in the human body naturally. So you do not have to worry about this. Most vaccines contain adjuvants, which are pharmacological or immunological agents that enhance the effect of the vaccine while having few if any direct effects when given by themselves. A vaccine adjuvant containing squalene (MF59) is licensed in Europe, but not in the U.S. In fact, however, most scientifically reliable reports do not support the idea that MF59 is dangerous.

There are some who believe that squalene, which was found in small amounts in some lots of anthrax vaccine, was responsible for the Gulf War Syndrome. However, there is considerable disagreement about this, and I don’t believe that a final answer is in. It is not at all clear that including small amounts in a vaccine would be harmful. In any case, the vaccines licensed in this country do not contain it.

Why did the swine flu vaccine in 1976 cause Guillain-Barré syndrome? If this vaccine is very similar to the seasonal vaccine, which is considered safe, what went wrong with the 1976 vaccine and what are they doing to prevent this again?

Good question. No one knows why the 1976 swine flu vaccine was associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). The good news, however, is that all the influenza vaccines since that time have been tested very carefully to see whether they would cause GBS, and none have. And since 1978, vaccines have included H1N1 strains (like, but not identical to, the 1976 swine flu vaccine, and also like the 2009 H1N1 strain), and no GBS has resulted. So the chances are very good that this one will not cause GBS.

Do we really know if it’s safe to give young children three flu shots in one year (one seasonal/regular flu shot and two swine flu shots)?stockphotopro_2092795BMD_doctor_giving_n

Vaccines represent only a tiny, tiny fraction of the challenges faced by a child’s immune system, even that of a very young child. Babies get an average of eight respiratory infections and several intestinal infections per year, and each of these presents multiple antigens that challenge the immune system. Three flu shots really are quite safe from that point of view.

Of course, no vaccine, no medicine, is 100 percent safe, but taking your child to the playground is not absolutely safe either. Serious reactions to today’s childhood vaccines (lasting longer than a few days) are extremely rare.

I’ve heard that getting the seasonal flu shot will make you more susceptible to the swine flu because it trains your immune system to be lazy.

This is a theoretical concern that has to do with which influenza strain a person is exposed to first. It probably does not apply to vaccine-exposure at all, but here is the story. What seems to happen is that when people get influenza A (the seasonal flu) for the second, third, or umpteenth time (we all get it more than once, and many of us get it many times during our lives), our immune system seems to remember the response we had to it the first time, and even if the umpteenth strain is somewhat different from the first (although they are still enough alike that we call them both “influenza A”), we produce an immunologic response that still looks something like our first one.

In experiments with animals, this also happens with vaccines. So, getting back to your question, for adults, and even for older children, this concern doesn’t apply to the order that this year’s vaccines are given. This is because essentially all adults and older children were exposed to influenza A for the first time many years ago, and it is that first infection that produces this odd effect. For small babies, who have never had influenza, it might apply, but the best results that have shown such an effect with vaccines are in mice, and we all know that mice are NOT humans, particularly in their immune systems, and react very differently to vaccines. If you are still worried, then you can let your child get the 2009 H1N1 vaccine first and wait until after that to give your child the seasonal flu vaccine. However, I myself would not be worried.

Has this information been helpful to you? Does it answer your flu vaccine questions, or do you have more? Let us know below. We understand this is a controversial topic, but please be respectful in your comments.

For more information from Children’s Hospital Boston on both the seasonal and H1N1 flus from, visit our Flu Information Center.

61 comments

  • parent of autistic son

    Thimerosal causes autism – it did in the 1930s and 1940s (Pinks Disease). It came back after the pharmacutical companies put thimersol in the shots in the late 1980′s.
    Water can’t have more than .2 micrograms, but one shot has 65.+
    Doc, you need to learn about what mercury characteristics look like and compare those characteristic to autism.

  • Lewis Chin

    Why take the shot when it’s just another flu and flu viruses mutate anyway?

  • Lewis Chin

    Why take the shot when it's just another flu and flu viruses mutate anyway?

  • Pingback: Swine Flu – Real World Answers Part II « Yummy Bubby | Nutrition, Health and Education for Parents of 0-8 Year Olds

  • george mamouzellos

    So. It is now monday, the 15th of march, 2010.

    The swine flu seems to have effectively dissappeared, for all intents and purposes. Its virulence, and deadly capacity has been shown, through evidence, to be a lie.

    Wolfgang Wodarg, the chair of the Health Committee in The European Council, has stated publically, that the swine flu “pandemic” is “one of the greatest medical scandals of the century”.

    This time, people, I get to say “I told you so”. Google my name, and you will get about two and a half thousand hits. Half of them, written months ago, think that I am insane, irresponsible, or both. The other half applaud my stance. This is, of course, irrelevant; what matters, people, is that I was, in fact, correct. Other health practitioners around the globe echo my views. Common sense, for once, is backed up by hard science – this pandemic was false. The billions spent on unproven vaccines were wasted; the aftermath of this horrible decision will be borne not only by the taxpayers who purchased the vaccine by proxy, but by those who took it and will suffer severe medical misadventure as a result.

    I have never before felt such loathing towards those whom I once considered my peers.

  • george mamouzellos

    So. It is now monday, the 15th of march, 2010.

    The swine flu seems to have effectively dissappeared, for all intents and purposes. Its virulence, and deadly capacity has been shown, through evidence, to be a lie.

    Wolfgang Wodarg, the chair of the Health Committee in The European Council, has stated publically, that the swine flu “pandemic” is “one of the greatest medical scandals of the century”.

    This time, people, I get to say “I told you so”. Google my name, and you will get about two and a half thousand hits. Half of them, written months ago, think that I am insane, irresponsible, or both. The other half applaud my stance. This is, of course, irrelevant; what matters, people, is that I was, in fact, correct. Other health practitioners around the globe echo my views. Common sense, for once, is backed up by hard science – this pandemic was false. The billions spent on unproven vaccines were wasted; the aftermath of this horrible decision will be borne not only by the taxpayers who purchased the vaccine by proxy, but by those who took it and will suffer severe medical misadventure as a result.

    I have never before felt such loathing towards those whom I once considered my peers.

  • John

    Well, I can appreciate the hardlined position taken by the staff here pledging their solemn allegiance to stabbing kids with needles – with NO REGARD given to the question of safety time and again being raised. Its obvious that monetary considerations especially in time of economic distress do indeed prevail.

    So lets take a look directly at some of the evidence (research) itself. In fact – the source of the CDC’s research – I mean that has to be straight from the horses mouth – right? We cant – the fraudster has left the country stealing all the research grants with him while the credibility of his “research” was being vigorously investigated.

    http://vaccinenewsdaily.com/news/212354-autism-study-researcher-suspected-of-misappropriating-2-million

    By the way – Im not your typical 37 year old who has nothing to do but scan the web for pro/anti vaccination diatribes…. at least not until my son, who at 1 year received MMR/dpt vaccine. Yeah, hes now 4 1/2 years old, and still hasnt spoken a god damned thing. At 8 months – his first word was PLEASE. We taught him to ask for something and he would say PLEASE. Then he learned to say “mommy”, then “daddy”….. Then I would say within 30 days of the vaccination blitz, his words began to be sputters and blabs – and then nothing. He can point really good. Fast forward to today – hes 4 1/2 – and not the same little twerp that filled our ears with music.

    I’ll leave you with this – to all those parents that have kids running thru-out the house screaming yelling and playing with glee – I know that it’d be nice to have some peace and quiet sometimes….. but do be careful for what you wish for….. because sometimes you may find yourself begging to have a 3 ring circus in your living room – even if for just a minute.

  • John

    Well, I can appreciate the hardlined position taken by the staff here pledging their solemn allegiance to stabbing kids with needles – with NO REGARD given to the question of safety time and again being raised. Its obvious that monetary considerations especially in time of economic distress do indeed prevail.

    So lets take a look directly at some of the evidence (research) itself. In fact – the source of the CDC's research – I mean that has to be straight from the horses mouth – right? We cant – the fraudster has left the country stealing all the research grants with him while the credibility of his “research” was being vigorously investigated.

    http://vaccinenewsdaily.com/news/212354-autism-

    By the way – Im not your typical 37 year old who has nothing to do but scan the web for pro/anti vaccination diatribes…. at least not until my son, who at 1 year received MMR/dpt vaccine. Yeah, hes now 4 1/2 years old, and still hasnt spoken a god damned thing. At 8 months – his first word was PLEASE. We taught him to ask for something and he would say PLEASE. Then he learned to say “mommy”, then “daddy”….. Then I would say within 30 days of the vaccination blitz, his words began to be sputters and blabs – and then nothing. He can point really good. Fast forward to today – hes 4 1/2 – and not the same little twerp that filled our ears with music.

    I'll leave you with this – to all those parents that have kids running thru-out the house screaming yelling and playing with glee – I know that it'd be nice to have some peace and quiet sometimes….. but do be careful for what you wish for….. because sometimes you may find yourself begging to have a 3 ring circus in your living room – even if for just a minute.

  • Anonymous

    The National Autism Foundation says this;
    …… Recent studies have confirmed the association between the use of thimerosal and autism has moved from “biologically plausible” to a “biological certainty” (Boyd Haley). Recent work by Dr. Mark Geier and David Geier in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons and Experimental Biology and Medicine have shown strong epidemiological evidence for a causal relationship between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders in children.
    http://www.nationalautismassociation.org/thimerosal.php

  • Grogros69

    yes it is true. look up the details of the contractual details between the US government ad vaccine makers. i wont do it for you (i have other things to do with the 45 seconds it will take me to find the link). take your future into your own hands and find it yourself.

  • Georgemamouzellos

    my name is george mamouzellos. it has been about a year. a few thousand women have miscarried because of the swine flu vaccine. a few dozen died outright. tens of thousands got the flu even AFTER having the vaccine. hundreds of millions were spent. the future human cost is as yet uncalculated. the WHO is under investigation, as are many doctors who supported its distribution. the reputation of vaccination as a form of therapy is in shambles. in short, i was right.

    so, o mighty childrens hospital boston staff, what have you to say. is it in you to apologize, or will you gloss over your gross misconduct, and pass it off as “one of those things that we couldnt have known” – except that you should have. because i did.

    i suspect the latter, personally.

    i would glory in being right, except that it took the deaths of innocents to prove it so. you disgusting, vile creatures.

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