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Expert Q&A

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Is theH1N1 shot containingthimerosal safe for my 1-year-old?

Asked by Nancy, Toronto

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My pediatrician's office has only the H1N1 flu nasal spray vaccine and the shot that contains thimerosal. I would like my 1-year-old son to receive the vaccine. Since he is too young for the nasal spray, is it better for him to get the shot with thimerosal or wait for the shot without the preservative?

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thank you for your question. Parents ask me this every day in my practice. The short answer is that it's recommended that infants over 6 months receive the H1N1 flu vaccine as soon as possible since children under the age of 2 years are at high risk for complications from H1N1 infection. The risks from the infection itself are thought to be much higher than any risk from the vaccine, with or without thimerosal.

Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that is used for multidose vials of vaccines. It prevents bacteria from contaminating these vials, which require repeated introduction of needles to remove multiple doses of the vaccine. Manufacturers stopped adding this preservative to certain childhood vaccines (although most have never contained thimerosal) as a precaution when some people theorized that it may be linked with autism. This link has never been proved, and after removing thimerosal from vaccines, there has actually been an increase in autism diagnoses. Still, vaccines that are currently intended for children 6 years old and younger now contain trace amounts to no thimerosal at all. Read more about vaccine ingredients from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The single-dose versions of seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines do not contain preservatives (again as a precaution in case there is any potential risk) and may be offered to children ages 6 months to 3 years. However, if a preservative-free option is not available, it is still recommended that children in this age group receive the multidose vaccine to protect them against complications from either type of the flu.

The nasal spray (mist) flu vaccine does not contain thimerosal. It is an option for people ages 2 years to 49 years who are not pregnant and do not have chronic medical conditions such as asthma.

I encourage you to talk with your child's pediatrician about specific vaccine options for your family.

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