State health officials say Big Island council resolution on flu vaccine off the mark
By Bret Yager
HILO — State public health officials are refuting claims made in a Hawaii County Council resolution that casts doubt on the safety of swine flu vaccines.
Saying that state and federal health officials could force the vaccines on the public in a pandemic situation, the resolution endorsed Tuesday by the council's Human Services and Economic Development Committee calls the vaccines unsafe.
The nonbinding resolution also calls on the state and federal government to exempt those who don't want the vaccines from any mandatory vaccination program.
The resolution introduced by Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole claims the vaccine contains 25 times the level of mercury considered toxic. The vaccine has not been properly tested and proven safe, Naeole said.
Committee members voted 7-1 in favor of the resolution, which still must pass a regular council vote.
The claims left state health officials shaking their heads yesterday.
"Are people really taking it seriously that we would make the vaccines mandatory?" Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. "I don't think we've ever considered making it mandatory."
Okubo said safety aspects of the testing of the new vaccine are posted on the Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People should consider the CDC an authoritative source and should be wary of other sources for their information, she said.
"People get their information from everywhere," she said.
The swine flu vaccine has ingredients very similar to the conventional flu vaccine, Okubo said.
"The mercury that is in the vaccine is less than a serving of ahi," said Judy Akamine, the Big Island's state public health nurse. "The vaccine is strictly voluntary. We have never said it was mandatory. Every effort has been made to assure its safety. The World Health Organization supports the procedures that have been followed in making the vaccine."
While there may be emergency provisions that allow the state to mandate vaccines, that has not been on the table in Hawaii or any other state that she's aware of, state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said. The Health Department has tried to put out a strong message to the contrary, she said.
"Mandating these types of things is not the way to get partnerships in a pandemic," Park said. "We'd rather educate people. I've queried at the federal level, and in none of the calls I've been on has anyone talked about making this mandatory in any state."
For those who are really worried about mercury in vaccines, the nasal spray FluMist is free of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal, Okubo said. Pregnant women and children can also request mercury-free injection vaccines, she said.