JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Some infants, toddlers and pregnant women may have received influenza immunizations containing mercury last year in violation of a new Missouri law requiring mercury-free vaccines, a state audit says.
The audit cites the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for doing a poor job of publicizing the law, which took effect in April 2007.
The department didn't undertake any widespread publicity until after the law had kicked in, which was after many medical providers already had ordered their vaccines for the 2007-2008 winter flu season.
"We do agree that we could have done a better job of informing particularly health-care providers about the law," health department spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said Tuesday.
Missouri law bans vaccines with more than a trace amount of mercury for pregnant women and children younger than 3.
At issue is the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, which has been removed in recent years from standard childhood vaccines except for some flu shots.
The federal Centers for Disease Control says there is no convincing scientific evidence of harm from low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, but some people believe that mercury in vaccines can trigger autism.
Responding to such concerns, Missouri legislators in 2005 passed a bill containing the mercury vaccine restrictions but delayed its implementation for two years.
That presumably should have been enough time for word to spread through Missouri's medical community about the new requirements.
But the audit said the health department received complaints from about 100 medical providers during the 2007-2008 flu season asking why they had not been notified about the law.
The department also received about 10 calls from medical providers who said they had already purchased flu vaccines containing mercury before they became aware of the law and planned to continue administering the vaccines to young children and pregnant women, the audit said.
The health department sent information about the new vaccine requirements to local public health agencies in June and July 2007, and distributed information to some other groups after that.
Gonder said health department officials are not aware of any adverse affects for children or pregnant woman who received vaccines containing mercury last flu season.
Some health-care providers already have begun giving flu shots for the 2008-2009 season. Health officials are not expecting the same level of confusion as last year.
"We think that definitely the word is out there for this year about the law," Gonder said. "The medical providers have had a better opportunity to know what vaccine they need to order."