[Thiomersal and immunisations]

Bundesgesundheitsblatt Gesundheitsforschung Gesundheitsschutz. 2004 Dec;47(12):1165-74. doi: 10.1007/s00103-004-0943-z.
[Article in German]


Thiomersal was used in the 1930s for the first time for the preservation of vaccines to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination. Thiomersal is an organic compound containing 49% mercury (Hg) by weight. It is generally well known that mercury and its compounds, including thiomersal, ethylmercury, and methylmercury, act as nephro- and neurotoxicants, however, at much higher doses than used in vaccines. In the 1990s the question of toxicity of thiomersal in vaccines was reassessed since the numbers of vaccines recommended for routine administration to infants and children, and therefore the cumulative thiomersal dose in children, increased in some countries. Various international committees (European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products, EMEA, US Public Health Service/American Academy of Pediatrics, Institute of Medicine, IOM) concluded after an extensive risk/benefit analysis that scientific evidence is inadequate to reject or explicitly recommend thiomerosal-containing vaccines for children. However (in line with the global goal of reducing exposure to mercury), they recommended promoting the elimination of thiomerosal from paediatric vaccines. This has largely been achieved in Germany. Today a child in Germany can be immunised in accordance with the official recommendations (STIKO) almost without the administration of thiomerosal (residual amounts). Results of new pharmacokinetic and epidemiological studies are discussed. The evidence available to date does not support the hypothesis of a potential relationship between neurodevelopmental disorders and thiomersal-containing vaccines.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems
  • Autistic Disorder / chemically induced
  • Autistic Disorder / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities / chemically induced
  • Developmental Disabilities / prevention & control
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury Poisoning / prevention & control*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / analysis
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / toxicity*
  • Risk
  • Risk Factors
  • Thimerosal / analysis
  • Thimerosal / toxicity*
  • Vaccines / analysis
  • Vaccines / toxicity*


  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Vaccines
  • Thimerosal
  • Mercury