Don't Risk it: Get the Facts on SafeMinds

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No matter what your position is on SafeMinds, I bet you found that title somewhat overly sensational. You may have thought that there was a not-so-hidden message in it. I’d love to know what your initial reaction was. Think it over before going on.

Here is one of the banner icons from the SafeMinds website. “Don’t Take The Risk” (big letters) above “Get the Facts on the Flu Vaccine” (smaller letters, below). What message does this send?

So, once again I’ll ask you to think about your initial reaction to the title of this blog post. If you found it sensational, if you found it leading, what do you think about the SafeMinds banner?

That banner is from the site you go to if you follow their advice to get more information at “”. You may recall that SafeMinds was collecting donations to fund the placement of their advertisement about flu vaccines, an ad that asked you to go to As it turns out that fundraising effort was at least partially for naught. You can read about it in Orac’s Something to be thankful for: No anti-vaccine propaganda with my Harry Potter, or at skepchick’s Let’s all go to the movies and save ourselves some lives.

As you might guess from Autism News Beat’s, AMC says no to shouting fire in a crowded theater, AMC movie theaters decided that they would pass on the opportunity to show the SafeMinds advertisements.

Why? Well, according to a comment left on the AMC community discussion forum by an AMC employee:

Ryan Noonan, Official Rep, replied 12 hours ago
Thank you for your feedback.

I understand there’s a lot of passion on both sides of this issue, however, as an entertainment company, AMC feels our movie screens are not the proper forum for this debate.

Quite right: public service announcements aren’t for the promotion of a debate. As if to prove AMC’s decision correct, the forum then devolved into the usual debate on mercury in vaccines, with much of the usual misinformation and, as Mr. Noonan notes, name-calling:

Thank you all for taking the time to post. As I have addressed, AMC Theatres have not and will not be airing any spot about this topic. While we appreciate the feedback received, we consider this matter closed.

Per Get Satisfaction’s community guidelines, discussion about topics unrelated to AMC Theatres, as well as name calling are against Get Satisfaction’s community guidelines. Despite numerous requests to refrain from debating issues not related to AMC Theatres, there continues to be discussion and debate about vaccination. Because this is not the proper forum for this debate, I am deleting this thread, as well as any subsequent discussion about this topic in this community.

The advertisement was to put both SafeMinds and their position in the public eye. Those who wanted to could then read more on the website. Here is an example of what you will find there. Under the heading “If You Are Pregnant or Have Small Children . . .”

Look at the evidence and decide if you consider the influenza virus a true threat to your family. Also consider the evidence regarding, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in actually preventing influenza.

If you do decide to vaccinate, insist on mercury–free influenza vaccines for yourself and your children.

Do not combine the flu vaccine with other vaccines.

Do not let yourself be pressured into receiving a vaccine that you don’t want; insist that your doctor or pharmacist find you a mercury-free vaccine

Let’s look at those points.

1) “Look at the evidence and decide if you consider the influenza virus a true threat to your family.” Well, unless you are immune to influenza, then, yes, it is a threat to your family. The question is how much of a threat, not whether it is a threat. The second part is valid, consider the effectiveness of the vaccine. I would add, consider that any medical procedure, including vaccines, carries some risk.

2) “If you do decide to vaccinate, insist on mercury–free influenza vaccines for yourself and your children.” Sounds like they’ve made up your mind for you on the mercury discussion.

3) “Do not combine the flu vaccine with other vaccines.” Why would that be? Especially, why would that be from the position of mercury exposure? If, as SafeMinds claims, this discussion is about reducing the exposure to mercury, why avoid, say, a mercury free flu shot in combination with a mercury free measles/mumps/rubella shot?

4) “Do not let yourself be pressured into receiving a vaccine that you don’t want; insist that your doctor or pharmacist find you a mercury-free vaccine “. But do let yourself get pressured by SafeMinds, as they have already made up your mind that you must have mercury-free vaccines.

SafeMinds goes on:

All vaccines pose some risk, with or without mercury content. However, the influenza vaccine is of great concern, as many brands contain high levels of mercury. SafeMinds recommends that consumers read package inserts for any vaccine prior to immunization.

No idea given as to what constitutes a “high level” of mercury. Given that SafeMinds bills themselves as an autism organization, one would assume that flu vaccines have a low level of mercury. Why? Because the level of mercury in a flu vaccine doesn’t cause autism. (It is worth noting that no level of mercury exposure has been shown to cause autism).

There are valid questions that should be raised about any medical procedure, vaccines included. One reason why SafeMinds gathers so much criticism is that they do not act as a vaccine safety organization. Instead, they are an organization which uses vaccine safety information and questions.

SafeMinds cites studies in Pediatrics, some authored by employees of the CDC or vaccine manufacturors to support some of their claims that the influenza vaccine may not be effective in pregnant women and their infants. Those familiar with SafeMinds will find this ironic as any of those affiliations appear to be a basis to immediately disregard any paper that goes against the SafeMinds positions.

Another example of the methods used by SafeMinds which are deservedly criticized is their approach to the issue of the flu-mist vaccine. They give citations which conclude that the flumist vaccine (which is thimerosal free) is more effective than the injected vaccine. However, SafeMinds stops short of a clear statement such as, “Ask for the nasal spray version of the vaccine”. Why? They have no problem making a clear decision for their readers in regards to avoiding mercury. Why not recommend a vaccine that they claim is safer and more effective? Why not recommend a vaccine? Many critical readers would question whether SafeMinds is, as they would like to say, an organization promoting safer vaccines or if they are, instead, an organization which can not bring itself to recommend a vaccine because they will not support a vaccination.

Can you “get the facts” from SafeMinds? Well, you won’t get all the facts in any place as there is so much material. But, one paper I couldn’t find on the SafeMinds website was this very recent one:

Eick, A., et al, Maternal influenza vaccination and effect on influenza virus infection in young infants.

Here’s the abstract:

Objective To assess the effect of seasonal influenza vaccination during pregnancy on laboratory-confirmed influenza in infants to 6 months of age.

Design Nonrandomized, prospective, observational cohort study.

Setting Navajo and White Mountain Apache Indian reservations, including 6 hospitals on the Navajo reservation and 1 on the White Mountain Apache reservation.

Participants A total of 1169 mother-infant pairs with mothers who delivered an infant during 1 of 3 influenza seasons.

Main Exposure Maternal seasonal influenza vaccination.

Main Outcome Measures In infants, laboratory-confirmed influenza, influenzalike illness (ILI), ILI hospitalization, and influenza hemagglutinin inhibition antibody titers.

Results A total of 1160 mother-infant pairs had serum collected and were included in the analysis. Among infants, 193 (17%) had an ILI hospitalization, 412 (36%) had only an ILI outpatient visit, and 555 (48%) had no ILI episodes. The ILI incidence rate was 7.2 and 6.7 per 1000 person-days for infants born to unvaccinated and vaccinated women, respectively. There was a 41% reduction in the risk of laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection (relative risk, 0.59; 95% confidence interval, 0.37-0.93) and a 39% reduction in the risk of ILI hospitalization (relative risk, 0.61; 95% confidence interval, 0.45-0.84) for infants born to influenza-vaccinated women compared with infants born to unvaccinated mothers. Infants born to influenza-vaccinated women had significantly higher hemagglutinin inhibition antibody titers at birth and at 2 to 3 months of age than infants of unvaccinated mothers for all 8 influenza virus strains investigated.

Conclusions Maternal influenza vaccination was significantly associated with reduced risk of influenza virus infection and hospitalization for an ILI up to 6 months of age and increased influenza antibody titers in infants through 2 to 3 months of age.

So, vaccinating a pregnant mother reduces the risk of the infant getting the flu (and getting hospitalized as a result). That is contrary to the message I see coming from SafeMinds. They do host another, older study that showed no statistically significant difference in children of vaccinated or unvaccinated mothers. Will they update their webpage to include this new study?

SafeMinds does bring up some valid questions on vaccine safety. And, contrary to how they like to present the discussion, vaccines (and all medical procedures) are not above challenge. However, they tend to use safety questions more as a tool rather than as honest discussion points. Perhaps I missed it, but can you find them bringing up these questions? How can we make influenza vaccines more effective? Isn’t that a laudable goal? Isn’t a universal influenza vaccine be a good goal, rather than the current method of trying to guess which specific strains will be in circulation for the upcoming season? Why haven’t simple safety improvements been made sooner. Changes such as the move to cell-based cultures over egg based cultures which run the risk of allergic reactions. Note that a new flu vaccine plant was being built in the US which would make the move to cell based cultured vaccines. Instead they concentrate on mercury and autism—mercury being the most thoroughly studied vaccine ingredient when it comes to autism (as in, multiple studies, large studies, good studies, have failed to find a link).

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