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Pastor campaigns against mercury in vaccines

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The Rev. Lisa Sykes
April 21, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Kelly C. Martini*

For the first two years of his life, Wesley appeared to be a normal, healthy child, smiling in baby pictures with his brother and family.

By his third birthday, however, Wesley’s childhood pictures changed. The life in his eyes appeared lost. His smile was no longer there. His mother could scream his name, and Wesley would not respond.

The Rev. Lisa K. Sykes, a pastor in Richmond, Va., sought medical help for her son. Doctors diagnosed him with autism, then tested him for heavy metal poisoning. Tests showed he had mercury levels in his blood stream exceeding danger levels.

For Sykes, the devastating news came when she discovered the vaccines and common shots, administered to her during pregnancy and to her child as an infant, had contained mercury, a documented poison at certain levels.

"Neither my physicians nor I knew mercury was present in these pharmaceuticals because it comprised part of an antiquated preservative that was, and still is, labeled as Thimerosal," Sykes told directors of the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. She spoke at the directors' April meeting in Stamford, Conn.

Several childhood vaccines and the Rho Gam shot given to some women during pregnancy contained Thimerosal until 1999, when companies removed it gradually.

However, the flu shot administered to young children, pregnant women and the elderly still contains the preservative, according to the Centers for Disease Control Web site at

Other nonstandard immunizations being used more and more by parents contain Thimerosal, Sykes said. "When you take something lethal and put it in something lifesaving, does that make the lethal thing safe, or the lifesaving thing lethal?"

"Along with being denied safe pharmaceuticals, I also was denied informed consent, making this not only a medical crisis, but also a crisis of civil — and some say, constitutional — rights," she said.

'Safe alternatives exist'

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The Women's Division is encouraging United Methodist Women to advocate for changes in safety guidelines for childhood vaccines.

With other concerned parents, Sykes began a campaign to educate parents, to change legislation, and to make government regulators and pharmaceutical companies study the issue and alternative uses of Thimerosal.

She believes a direct correlation exists between the increasing rate of autism in the United States and the rate of exposure to the vaccines that contained Thimerosal. She does not stand alone in stating that certain children have a genetic disposition, which causes life-long reactions to mercury, such as with autism, and potentially other childhood disorders. Researchers from John Hopkins, Columbia, Tufts, Baylor and similar institutions are finding supporting evidence.

Dr. Mark Geier, president of the Genetic Center of America, writes that a decreasing load of mercury in the immunization schedule in 2003 has produced a falling rate in the diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders three years later.

However, these disorders are expected to increase again, since Thimerosal is beginning to appear in newer vaccines.

"Safe alternatives exist," Sykes told the Women's Division directors. "But pharmaceutical companies prefer Thimerosal because it is cheap and allows them to use old factories and old manufacturing processes."

Powerful enemies

For four years, Sykes took her cause to the federal government, health agencies and the Virginia State Legislature, seeking to get a mercury-ban in pharmaceuticals. Seven other states have passed mercury-banning legislation, including Iowa, California, Delaware, Missouri, Illinois, New York and Washington.

According to California Proposition 65, "Thimerosal has been recognized by the California Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, as a developmental toxin, meaning that it can cause birth defects, low birth weight, biological dysfunctions, or psychological or behavior deficits that become manifest as the child grows, and maternal exposure during pregnancy can disrupt the development or even cause the death of the fetus. Exposure to mercury in utero and to children may cause mild to severe mental retardation and mild to severe motor coordination impairment."

"When the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration protest that they have found no 'evidence of harm,' they sidestep the issue that they are required by law to show proof of safety — clinical proof," Sykes said.

In the Virginia Legislature, the mercury-banning bill never got out of committee, and a top aide told Sykes that "your enemies are more powerful than you know." She disagreed, deciding it was time to enlist the support of the church.

The United Methodist Virginia Conference, led by Bishop Charlene Kammerer and Virginia United Methodist Women, passed a resolution on "Protecting Children from Mercury-Containing Drugs."

Women join fight

For Christians, the issue intensifies into a moral and ethical issue, as the developing world has passed laws keyed to those in the United States, after being victimized by unsafe and cheap pharmaceutical products. If the United States bans Thimerosal, other countries will do the same thing, forcing companies to provide them with an alternative drug that costs the companies more, she explained.

Women's Division directors shared her concern and voted to encourage the nearly 1 million members of United Methodist Women to advocate for changes in safety guidelines for childhood shots.

The division wants members to call on the secretary of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect children from mercury-containing drugs.

They also want members to push for mercury-free stocks of vaccines and other pharmaceutical products; prioritize these for pregnant women, newborn infants and children; and ensure that an "informed consent" form is given to all individuals regarding mercury exposure through these products.

*Martini is communications director for the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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