Background & objectives: The US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reports that mercury (Hg) is a known endocrine disruptor and it adversely affects the steroid synthesis pathway in animals and humans, and may interact to enhance the risk for a child developing premature puberty. An association between premature puberty and exposure to Hg from thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) was evaluated in computerized medical records within the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD).
Methods: A total of 278,624 subjects were identified in birth cohorts from 1990-1996. The birth cohort prevalence rates of medically diagnosed International Classification of Disease, 9(th) revision (ICD-9) premature puberty and control outcomes were calculated. Exposures to Hg from TCVs were calculated by birth cohort for specific exposure windows from birth-7 months and birth-13 months of age. Poisson regression analysis was used to model the association between the prevalence of outcomes and Hg doses from TCVs.
Results: Significantly increased (P<0.0001) rate ratios were observed for premature puberty for a 100 microg difference in Hg exposure from TCVs in the birth-7 months (rate ratio=5.58) and birth-13 months (rate ratio=6.45) of age exposure windows. By contrast, none of the control outcomes had significantly increased rate ratios with Hg exposure from TCVs.
Interpretation & conclusions: Routine childhood vaccination should be continued to help reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with infectious diseases, but efforts should be undertaken to remove Hg from vaccines. Additional studies should be done to evaluate the relationship between Hg exposure and premature puberty.