Fears over pandemic flu collided with growing concerns over the safety of childhood vaccinations Monday when a parents group challenged the Centers for Disease Control's recent recommendation that infants and pregnant women receive flu shots this year.
The CDC has revised its flu shot guidelines, recommending that all children between six months and five years of age, as well as pregnant women, receive a flu shot. The CDC has launched a major campaign urging Americans to get vaccinated, designating Nov. 27-Dec. 3 as "National Influenza Vaccination Week."
Flu kills 36,000 people and hospitalizes about 200,000 every year, according to the CDC. The American Medical Association reports that between 5 percent and 20 percent of Americans receive flu shots every year.
However an organization called PutChildrenFirst.Org, a parent-led group working to increase awareness of the dangers of mercury in flu shots, held a teleconference Monday in opposition to the CDC's new flu shot campaign and, more specifically, the government's position that flu shots containing thimerosol, a preservative containing mercury, are safe.
Over the past few years, parents of autistic children, as well as other groups, have come to increasingly believe that childhood immunizations — specifically the thimerosol used to preserve the vaccines — triggers autism.
Mercury is an extremely dangerous neurotoxin, which can cause serious impairments of cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. While there is no debate over the dangers of mercury exposure, the question has been whether the amount of mercury present in vaccinations poses a health risk. The debate over the link between childhood immunizations and autism has grown increasingly contentious, as government studies have failed to establish a relationship between the developmental disorder and vaccinations.
However, according to PutChildrenFirst.Org, many people do not think of flu shots as part of the schedule of childhood vaccines and are not aware that most flu shots contain thimerosol. While the CDC does report several studies warning about the dangers of mercury exposure, these reports do not mention that flu shots contain mercury.
PutChildrenFirst.Org is part of a public health movement that has emerged over the past few months that has raised doubts about the government's ability to objectively evaluate vaccine safety, given its public health interest in immunizations, and calling for the establishment of an independent body to evaluate vaccine and thimerosol safety.
A survey of 9,204 people conducted by Zogby International, a public opinion group, between Oct. 27-30 of this year, found that many people are uninformed about vaccinations, but have strong opinions when provided with information. According to the survey, when asked what they knew about flu shots:
— 74 percent of respondents were unaware that most flu shots contained mercury.
— After learning this fact, 74 percent said they were less likely to get a flu shot and 86 percent of parents w/children (17 or younger living at home) said they were less likely to have their children get the flu shot.
— 78 percent agreed that mercury should not be an ingredient in flu shots given to pregnant women and children
— 73 percent said that the government should warn pregnant women not to get a flu shot if it contains mercury.
— More than 70 percent said Congress, doctors, and medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics should take the responsibility to ensure that vaccines do not contain mercury.
— 80 percent of respondents and 82 percent of parents said they are willing to pay additional cost to receive flu shots that do not contain mercury.
In public opinion polling, results over 70 percent can be categorized as "striking" or "remarkable" results, according to Fritz Winzel of Zogby International.
Thimerosol-free flu shots do exist, but patients must specifically request them. Additionally, patients should be prepared to pay more for these vaccines and that their doctors may not have them. Thimerosol-free vaccines are in short supply and some doctors who have ordered them have not received them.
Activists are calling on the CDC to establish a panel to monitor the safety of flu vaccines.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.