A group of prominent doctors and public health experts warns in articles to be published Monday in the journal Pediatrics that banning thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative in vaccines, would devastate public health efforts in developing countries.
Representatives from governments around the world will meet in Geneva next month in a session convened by the United Nations Environmental Program to prepare a global treaty to reduce health hazards by banning certain products and processes that release mercury into the environment.
But a proposal that the ban include thimerosal, which has been used since the 1930s to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination in multidose vials of vaccines, has drawn strong criticism from pediatricians.
They say that the ethyl-mercury compound is critical for vaccine use in the developing world, where multidose vials are a mainstay.
Banning it would require switching to single-dose vials for vaccines, which would cost far more and require new networks of cold storage facilities and additional capacity for waste disposal, the authors of the articles said.