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The 1931 Powell and Jameison study on safety of thimerosal

“Thimerosal is an organic compound that is 49.6 percent ethylmercury. Eli Lilly and Co., the Indianapolis-based drug giant, developed and registered thimerosal under its trade name Merthiolate in 1929 and began marketing it as an antibacterial, antifungal product. It became the most widely used preservative in vaccines. Thimerosal cannot be used with live-cell vaccines, such as MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) or polio, because it would kill the vaccine.

The only research looking into the safety of thimerosal was done in 1930 by Eli Lilly-sponsored doctors, who injected it into 22 patients with meningitis. The human experiments failed to prove that thimerosal was nontoxic. Nonetheless, researchers H.M. Powell and W.A. Jamieson published a study in September 1931 in the American Journal of Hygiene that stated thimerosal had a ‘low order of toxicity’ for humans, without mentioning that the human subjects were ill and subsequently died.

Internal Lilly documents from the time, however, revealed that the company’s researchers were worried about Merthiolate’s ‘burning qualities’ when used on the skin. By 1935, Eli Lilly’s Jameison had further evidence of thimerosal’s toxicity when he received a letter from a researcher who had injected it into dogs and saw severe local reactions, leading him to state: ‘Merthiolate is unsatisfactory as a preservative for serum intended for use on dogs.’

In the 70 years since thimerosal/Merthiolate was developed, the FDA never required Eli Lilly to conduct clinical studies of its safety, despite ample evidence of its toxicity and its highly allergic properties. In fact, the FDA today still refers to the 1931 Powell and Jameison study on its Web site as indication of the ‘safety and effectiveness’ of thimerosal as a preservative.”

— Annette Fuentes, contributing editor of In These Times

Courtesy: The Outliers
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