[ADDENDUM 11-25-10: AMC Theaters has pulled the anti-vaccine ad from their program. Thank you to those who wrote, called, shared, commented, or otherwise promoted actual science over superstition!]

I mentioned recently that everyone should get a flu shot and was told by three people – all of whom I thought to be rational, intelligent, and well-informed folk – that the flu vaccine a) doesn’t work, b) causes the flu, and b) might give you mercury poisoning.

Here are some pesky facts:

The flu vaccine has been in use since the 1950s. If it didn’t work, there would be no reason to continue its use for the last nearly 50 years.

The flu itself can kill and it is especially lethal to the most vulnerable among us: Children, the elderly, and those with weakened or compromised immune systems. However, the flu pandemic of 1918-1920 killed 500 million people worldwide, including a surprisingly high number of healthy young people.

The vaccine is recommended for everyone, but especially for pregnant women, the elderly, children over a year old, and people with immunosuppressive disorders. Also, health care workers, teachers and other school personnel, or those with jobs that have a lot of human contact would do best to be immunized.

Anyone who gets the flu just after a vaccine was probably already carrying it, since the vaccine takes awhile to effectively cause immunity. The current vaccine for the 2010-2011 flu season takes up to five days to fully take effect.

Side effects of the vaccine do indeed mimic the flu, including body aches and sometimes fever. However, symptoms are not nearly as bad, nor do they last as long, as actually having the flu.

The argument that vaccines cause mercury poisoning and/or autism has been refuted time and time again, yet it keeps coming back. The latest is a 30-second spot being run in movie theatres this week that insists the flu vaccine has mercury in it. Worse, it recommends that pregnant women not get vaccinated at all.

First, the thimerosal/mercury issue in vaccines is a scare tactic. It has no basis in science. The World Health Organization has said:

The theoretical risk from exposure to thimerosal has to be balanced against the known high risk of having no preservative in vaccines. Therefore, WHO, UNICEF, the European Agency for Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA), and other key agencies continue to recommend the use of vaccines containing this preservative because of the proven benefit of vaccines in preventing death and disease and the lack of data indicating harm [emphasis mine].

The WHO therefore recommends the vaccine specifically for several groups, including pregnant women.

This is an excellent article in eSkeptic outlining the problems with the thimerosal/mercury argument. Now before anyone says, “But Diva, that’s a skeptic magazine – of course they’re going to have bias,” perhaps you should check the long list of references at the end of the article. It is filled with links to scientific journals, newspaper stories, and other material which supports each one of the arguments presented. See, that’s what science does: It supports its position with evidence. Superstition, hearsay, and anecdotes do not.

The commercial which will be running in theaters is therefore filled with misinformation (if what is presented was not intended to be outright lies) and may cause pregnant women to go unimmunized. This is against the recommendations of both the World Health Organization (see link above) and the Centers for Disease Control (recommendations here), who have the science, knowledge, and resources to prove the flu shot is effectively harmless for pregnant women and the children they carry.

Allow me to put this in perspective:

For me, the annual shot is the difference between being productive and laying on the couch, TV remote in hand, surrounded by a small pharmacy of pain relievers and other medicines.

For an expectant mother, it is the difference between life and death for their child.

Would you base that kind of decision on a 30-second paid spot or on the genuine experts?

Science, FTW.

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