Amy Carson, co-founder of Mothers Against Mercury, believes vaccines should be given with as much supplemental material about risks, ingredients and side effects as is currently provided for prescription drugs.
"With vaccines, we go to the doctor's office and ... don't know what's in it and what we're being given," she said, even though "it is one of the only drugs you have to sign a consent form to receive."
The organization was created to advocate legislation that would call for stricter safety standards on current vaccines, especially in limiting the amount of mercury exposure infants and children get from vaccines.
Mercury, which used to be present in most vaccines as a preservative (often as thiomersal), is now only found in certain influenza vaccines and in trace amounts in others, but Carson argues that even these trace amounts can cause neurological damage to kids. She worries that without stricter regulation, these "trace" amounts may be much larger than expected and be causing damage that is going unacknowledged.
But while the organization's concern over better education for parents is widely shared in the medical community, the claim that mercury in vaccines causes neurological damage to children is contested by doctors.
Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at Philadelphia Children's Hospital and co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, said that "the amount of mercury that was in vaccines before it was removed was less than children are exposed to in the environment."
The scientifically-documented concerns and risks of vaccines are given to parents in the form of a vaccination sheet. The sheets are required by law for each pediatrician to give out at the time of vaccination,Offit pointed out, but mercury is not among the listed concerns.
Dr. Sara Rizvi, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, echoed Offit's reassurance.
"Extensive literature exists that supports the safety and efficacy of all of the recommended childhood vaccines," she said.
"Now we as pediatricians have to find effective ways to ... give parents the information necessary to make informed decisions and believe in the safety of vaccines."