The simple answer is no. Mercury was present in multi-dose vials and manufacturers removed the preservative Thiomersal which contained very low and safe levels of mercury from two decades ago. This is no longer needed in Australia as most vaccines are single-use vials.
The more interesting questions are: who is opposed to vaccinations and what motivates this objection?
Concerns about toxic chemicals are but one source of objection promoted by a small but vocal minority of groups opposed to childhood vaccinations. Vaccine opposition and associated fearmongering are about as old as vaccines themselves.
The Anti-Vaccination League was formed in 1853 in London as a response to the UK Vaccination Act of the same year, which mandated compulsory vaccinations for infants. Propaganda of the day spread through letters and pamphlets suggesting vaccinations caused harm, and that medical professionals were in it for the money. This was a response to moral concerns of liberty, in addition to vaccination conspiracies and issues of safety.
Today, disinformation can spread further and with greater ease through social media. Amplified by vocal minorities, and faux-expert celebrities such as Robert Kennedy Jnr, dishonest and factually incorrect messaging attempts to convince parents of the ''hidden truth'' about vaccinations.
Some are doing their own research, disillusioned with modern medicine. Others are profiteering by generating fear about vaccinations and offering hope to protect children or cure disorders with pseudoscientific alternatives.
These groups frustrate health practitioners and parents who vaccinate their children. Their beliefs are inexorable and dangerous to society. However, lumping together any objector as part of this vocal minority is unproductive if the goal is to increase rates of vaccination.
There is a larger group known as the vaccine hesitant, or fence-sitters. These are parents who have not vaccinated their child for various reasons, but may be willing to do so.
They may be concerned about the safety of vaccinations, reacting to a perceived threat against liberty, or simply unable to attend medical appointments because of pressing family needs.
We should ask, listen and acknowledge people's concerns, provide information and try not to be judgemental.
Human beings are complex. Just because a parent is opposed to vaccinations does not make them an ardent vaccine sceptic. Dismissing their concerns as uninformed or wrong may simply entrench their beliefs. Giving them more facts or information is not the solution.
Try and remember the last time you changed your mind after someone gave you the facts and explained all the reasons why you were wrong.
Objections to vaccination are often not due to a knowledge deficit or a lack of facts. They are due to a complex set of beliefs underpinned by psychological motives.
Response by: Mathew Marques, PhD, Lecturer in Social Psychology, La Trobe University
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