Antivaccine nonsense Medicine

SafeMinds tries to frighten pregnant women into skipping the flu vaccine

As I said yesterday, it’s time to take a break from blogging about Stanislaw Burzynski; that is, unless something new happens that I consider to be worth commenting on. Fear not, though. I will return to the subject. As I said yesterday, Burzynski is now pushing some sort of nonstandard “personalized gene-targeted therapy” in addition to his antineoplaston therapy.

In the meantime, it’s back to business. I’m a bit tired, but I’m (almost) never too tired to analyze a claim made by a supporter of pseudoscience.

Amazingly, sometimes the gods of the blogosphere are kind and benevolent. They provide. In this case, they provided perfect blog fodder in the form of an e-mail from one of the many crank e-mail lists I subscribe to as a ready source of blogging material. This time, the fodder came from the anti-vaccine crank group SafeMinds. (I bet you thought I was going to say Age of Autism, didn’t you?) The e-mail read:

SafeMinds Launches Flu Vaccine Campaign Aimed at OB/GYNs

Interested in spreading the word about the danger of flu vaccines containing thimerosal to pregnant women and children? SafeMinds is launching a campaign aimed at OB/GYNs. Sign up for a tool kit to present to your physician by e-mailing here. View our OB/GYN Flu Campaign Video below or click here to watch.

The video is here:

The video features a woman named Dr. Cindy Schneider, who is listed as the medical advisor for SafeMinds. She narrates the video as though she’s sleepwalking through it, starting out by saying that her video is directed at her fellow obstetricians because of their shared interest in the health of pregnant women and their desire to “insure that pregnant women avoid exposure to mercury.” What could be nicer and more caring? How nice of her! Of course, anyone familiar with SafeMinds and other anti-vaccine groups knows exactly what’s coming next, and Dr. Schneider doesn’t disappoint–eventually. First, she has to go on and on about how “even most obstetricians” don’t know about the source of mercury that she’s about to reveal to a waiting world. You and I know what that source supposedly is, and it’s not long in coming.

Yep, it’s the flu vaccine. Surprise, surprise.

Dr. Schneider starts out by opining:

In my experience, most physicians are under the impression that mercury is no longer present in vaccines. While this is true for some immunizations, as of the 2010-2011 flu season, most influenza vaccines still contain mercury in the form of the preservative thimerosal.

Naturally, while Dr. Schneider is talking, there are shots of lists of vaccines that culminate in a picture of a label from a chemical bottle containing thimerosal:


Note the skull in the lower right hand corner with the words “very toxic” underneath it. I have to hand it to SafeMinds; whoever put this video together actually had the self-restraint not to zero in on that skull and crossbones and slap a circle around the words “very toxic.” Yes, I suppose that this qualifies as subtlety in anti-vaccine circles. Compared to most of the bloggers at AoA, for instance, I’m amazed at the level of restraint SafeMinds has been able to muster in the first 40 seconds of the video.

It doesn’t last, of course.

Up next comes the scary claims about how some vaccines contain up to 250x the levels of mercury identified by the EPA as HAZARDOUS WASTE. It’s a profoundly silly claim that is utterly meaningless, because it’s not the “levels” (i.e., the concentration) of mercury that matters in determining whether something qualifies as hazardous waste. For example, this chart shows what the EPA recommends regarding mercury concentrations in various types of water, and for water in general is 200 mg/L. Thimerosal-containing flu vaccines generally don’t contain more than 0.01% Thimerosal (one part per 10,000). Given that thimerosal is approximately 50% mercury by weight, that means that a 0.01% solution of thimerosal contains 50 µg of Hg per 1 mL dose or 25 µg of Hg per 0.5 mL dose. The concentration in solution is thus 50 µg/ml, or 50 mg/L, which is indeed 250 times 0.2 mg/L. Does any of this mean that thimerosal is dangerous to mother or baby? No, because the total dose is no more than 25 µg, which is a very small amount. Wow! Why on earth would you want to inject toxic waste into your body? The “250x the level of mercury that the EPA considers toxic waste” bit sure does sound scary if you don’t know enough about chemistry to realize how ridiculous it is. A particularly amusing touch (to me at least) is how SafeMinds recommends that you return unused flu vaccines to the manufacturerer for safe disposal. Oooh! Scary! Too bad the regulation shown on the screen at the time says that vaccines returned this way are not regulated as hazardous waste. So which is it? Are vaccines hazardous waste or not. It’s so confusing.

SafeMinds is either utterly contemptuous of its audience’s intelligence and education, or it is ignorant enough itself to fall for this nonsense.

The next part of the video starts out claiming that one in six women already have absorbed enough mercury to have high levels of mercury in their body. I have no idea where that figure came from; so I Googled it. It turns out that it’s a commonly parroted figure that derives apparently from a CDC study described in this NYT article. If you look at how the EPA actually developed its “reference dose” for a level of mercury that is highly unlikely to cause harm, it becomes obvious that this part of the SafeMinds video is also a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys. Here’s an article that explains it. Basically, the EPA used data from three large longitudinal cohort studies of the neuropsychological consequences of in utero exposure to methylmercury, including the Faroe Islands and the Seychelles Islands. The EPA then applied a “total uncertainty factor” of 10, which basically means that they divided the figure they got for a safe level of mercury in the blood by ten and used that as the “reference dose.” In other words, the EPA built in a ten-fold margin of safety into its reference dose for mercury. Why the number ten? Who knows? Also, this reference level is for methyl mercury, not ethyl mercury (which is what thimerosal is). It turns out that this reference level is 5.8 µg/L, which is a very low level. Far be it for me to try to claim that mercury isn’t a concern, but this gets ridiculous, particularly given the small amounts of mercury in vaccines.

Not that any of this stops SafeMinds from saying something that sounds on the surface reasonable (it’s a good idea to reduce mercury exposure). There’s just one problem. The words show up over pictures of fish, chemical plants, and dental work. So I guess that vaccines are just like mercury-laden fish or disgusting chemical plants. And the picture of dental work is way off, given that there is no evidence that mercury amalgams are harmful. Nor does it stop Dr. Schneider from pointing out that the CDC banned thimerosal in childhood vaccines in 1999 but that half of the flu vaccines still have thimerosal in it. Of course, there’s a huge difference between children and adults with respect to sensitivity to mercury exposure. For one things, the nervous systems of adults are done developing. For another thing, adults weigh a lot more, making the small amount of mercury in the flu vaccine much less on a per-kg basis. Particularly disingenous is the part where Dr. Schneider intones that, based on EPA reference doses, a 68 kg woman should not receive more than 6.8 µg mercury a day. Oh, no! The amount of mercury in vaccines is three times that! Horrors! Well, not really. That dose of 0.1 µg/kg per day is meant as an average, chronic dose. A single dose greater than that is not dangerous. It’s another common scare tactic that the antivaccine movement likes to use.

The rest of the video is a litany of common anti-vaccine canards, including a quick listing of famous bad studies that anti-vaccinationists like to trot out to try to make their case that vaccines are evil health hazards. I tried to look one of these up, the review article by J. G. Dorea, but unfortunately my university doesn’t have an online subscription to that journal. Oh, well, it looked as though it reviewed studies such as the infamous “monkey business” study. I also know that this article is probably overly credulous in that apparently a major concern listed is that many vaccines contain both thimerosal and the dreaded aluminum as an adjuvant.

In the end, SafeMinds has a fair amount of chutzpah in that it concludes a video directed at physicians with a plea to visit its website for information on vaccines. I would hope that a physician would be able to figure out that the information on SafeMinds is pure antivaccine pseudoscience, but I’m not so sure anymore. After all, there are doctors like Dr. Schneider, Dr. Jay Gordon, and other doctors ranging from the merely credulous about anti-vaccine arguments to being pure anti-vaccine themselves. That’s why I’m no longer as confident as I once was that physicians will recognize the plea at the end that SafeMinds is all about “vaccine safety” for what it is: Pure. B.S.

Dr. Schneider does say one thing that I believe to be the truth, though, right before pulling the “I’m not anti-vaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccine” schtick with a dollop of “we’re just giving misinformation” (or, as I prefer to call it, misinformed consent):

SafeMinds does not endorse any particular vaccine or manufacturer.

No kidding. If Dr. Schneider had changed the phrasing a little, it would have been perfect. She should have said that SafeMinds does not endorse vaccination.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

63 replies on “SafeMinds tries to frighten pregnant women into skipping the flu vaccine”

I got a flu vaccine shot the other day, Influvac it’s called. It didn’t contain mercury not that I bothered to ask up front.

I expect anyone sufficiently paranoid could ask and request one without it.

That or they could put themselves, the people around them and their unborn child at risk from contracting flu. I know which choice those dummies at SafeMinds would prefer.

I totally missed the part where the image states that vaccines returned to the manufacturer are not considered hazardous waste. I did note, however, that the bit they focused on for the Dorea study was an in vitro study of non-human brain cells.

I had to chuckle and shake my head in disbelief at her 68kg woman calculation and comparing it to the daily limit from the EPA for methylmercury exposure. The sad thing is, we all know and can spot the BS she’s shoveling, but that’s largely because we’re in the thick of these arguments all the time. A lot of docs who don’t deal with these issues as frequently may be taken in by some of the claims in this video. Very sad.

Given the relative rise in mortality rates for pregnant women during the H1N1 period, this is extremely bad advice.

I actually knew someone who died from acute methylmercury poisoning, but of course the dose was ENORMOUS compared to these amounts. Not a good way to die, though — it takes a long time.

I often teach pre-meds, and am not surprised that many of them prove susceptible to pseudoscientific claims, since their grasp of science is a bit, shall we say, tenuous. On the other hand, some of them are future Oracs!

Let us not forget who started this idiocy — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He still enjoys a place of honor within the environmental community and is frequently interviewed on television and put forward as an expert in environmentalist publications both on and off line. He has paid no price, it seems. His murdered father’s fame is sufficient to make him respectable, regardless of his personal qualities.

Influenza is deadlier for pregnant women than nonpregnant women. This is appalling advice. I can’t watch the actual video (though YouTube is not blocked where I work, the bandwidth has been severely throttled, so I save it for stuff I actually *want* to watch) but I hope they didn’t do like so many anti-vaxxers do and also mention Rhogam. There is a whole subgroup of vaccines-cause-autism folks who blame it on the mothers getting Rhogam shots. As an Rh negative mother, this annoys the hell out of me. Rhogam hasn’t had mercury in it for a long time, and (which will please a certain self-published author) are also latex-free. Obviously, the manufacturers have a keen interest in making sure women can’t find an excuse not to take it, which is a good thing because although it’s not a big money maker, it saves a lot of lives. Of course, removing thimerosal did not stop the fearmongering. If you Google for “rhogam ingredients”, the first result is a decent one, the next one is a message board thread where people are fearfully discussing how to get thimersoal-free Rhogam because they’re still scared even after the pharmacist explained they’re all thimerosal-free and even after several people explained the reason why it’s important, and the third one is at Yikes.

I wonder for *whom* the video is actually intended- marks could imagine that they’re getting the inside scoop designed purely for medical professionals- as though they were listening in on a conversation amongst doctors not patients. “What your doctors don’t want you to know about vaccines”.

I am quite upset by the cavalier manner in which woo-slingers *advise* people about health- teaching the un-suspecting to fear vaccines and pharmaceutical products for serious illness ( HIV/AIDS, cancer, CV, SMI). Their own grandiosity enables them to dis-regard evidence that they don’t *like* and go on to spread nonsense regardless of the consequences. And there is something horrendous about videos, film, and radio *because* they all use the human voice as a means to manipulate emotions. The feigned sincerity and confidence mimic performances of actors not health professionals *doing their jobs*.

I often ask myself “Why vaccines?” “What have they ever done to invoke such wrath?” And that’s the point: vaccines clearly illustrate the success of SBM in greatly reducing the effects of infectious disease. When you’re peddling supplements and herbal concoctions vaccines are a direct threat to your business.

Right now, not only is this effort directed at people in North America and Western Europe but at efforts by groups in developed countries to fight infectious disease in under-developed parts of the world. So it’s not just in our own backyard: anti-vax sows the seeds of fear and mistrust worldwide. If you scan through NaturalNews or the ProgressiveRadioNetwork you’ll see what I mean. Everyday I pass a sign that says “Eradicate polio”: they’ll get my money.

“On the other hand, some of them are future Oracs!”

So, they’re egomaniacal, biased, pseudoscientific douchebags with their heads shoved up their asses? That’s…disturbing.

I has a sad, now…

It seems from these comments that I have a unique perspective into the minds of the folks who are on the anti-vaccine bandwagon. First, let me say that I have had both my sons vaccinated, on schedule. I had no idea that Dawkins had a stance on vaccinations, but I highly respect him and therefore was pleased he shares my viewpoint.

I am a natural birth advocate, and this is how I was introduced to the world of anti-vaccinations. I have to say its just a general mistrust of the medical system by many. Anyone who knows anything about birth knows that its a cash cow in the US, and the cesarean rates are at all time highs….doctors simply don’t understand the natural process. This directly translates to people immersing themselves in natural and holistic information sources where they are influenced about vaccinations, simply because they are looking for natural birth resources. The type of people that question the authority (often atheists, btw) naturally question it beyond their birth, the next decision is the vaccinations. People do not trust pharmaceutical companies, and thats the real problem. To many it just seems like a scam, they have no recollection of deadly diseases and all they see is the doctors and pharmacy companies dollar signs and open hands. These are generally excellent parents in my opinion, supporters of Dr. Jay Gordan, who I agree with about EVERYTHING else, cosleeping, extended nursing, democratic parenting.

I guess I fell out of the norm for this subset when I decided to vaccinate, I simply couldn’t accept it if my child were to fall ill from some antiquated disease. Perhaps if big pharmaceutical companies were not such horrible dirt bags more people would trust the stuff they are peddling. I have seen some of the other comments though and I highly disagree with the notion that doctors always know best about everything, with childbirth they absolutely don’t. All you have to do is look at the cesarean rate of any major hospital and compare it to the rate of The Farm midwives and midwife Ina May Gaskin….doctors are business people in many situations and many of them become doctors because of the income and prestige, not to help people.

Thanks everyone, I was thinking ’tis the season to get vaccinated for flu and now I feel safe to ask for a double dose of thimerosol. Why does Canada get a thimerosol-free vaccine? Are they a country full of kooks? What is the purpose/necessity of thimerosol?
Why don’t you blog next on how great GMO food is and how these insolent skeptics think GMO food are endocrine disruptors.
The original blogger and article is fair and balanced although some of his followers seem to be down for a witchhunt.
‘Tis the season.

SG – well, since the industry did cave to outside pressure and remove Thimersol from the majority of products (and the flu vaccine is readily available without it – including FluMist, which never had it), this entire message rings hollow – it acts as nothing more than scare tactics against vaccines in general.

I agree with Denise that vaccines have been painted as the “bad guy” because they do prove the efficacy of SBM & are a major knock against so-called “natural remedies.”

Woomeisters always claim that Big Pharma doesn’t want to prevent diseases, only treat them – which leaves a huge gaping hole in logic when it comes to vaccines – so they have no choice but to attempt to put them in the worst possible light, otherwise their position makes no sense at all (not that it does anyway, but there you go).

Also this is the group that the CDC tried to work with, and even let them help design the study. But when the results were not what they wanted, they had an conniption fit:

Sour grapes, anyone? Ms. Bernard was a consultant on this study and helped contribute to its design! She apparently didn’t like the results that it was producing and decided to drop out and start criticizing it–even jumping the gun on the 5 PM embargo yesterday to do so! Indeed, she is listed on the study in a way that I’ve never seen before: as a “dissenting member.”

Because, no matter what the data show, to them it will always be the vaccines. Nothing else.

Ya know, within an hour of getting my flu vaccine, I had a large tender swelling on that arm. Of course, it was on my elbow, where I had a small wart removed by freezing at the same appointment. But, obviously, flu vaccine are horrible terrible things, because look what happened to me!

@ Solomon Grundy, born everyday

Why does Canada get a thimerosol-free vaccine?

Because customers were afraid of the evil mercury, the governement heard it and made sure to only order the thimerosol-free version, and the manufacturers gladly complied. Same in many parts of the US, really.
Not our fault if your elected guys don’t listen to their voters.

Are they [Canada] a country full of kooks?

Actually, yes. We do have our fair share of cranks. But it’s irrelevant here.

What is the purpose/necessity of thimerosol?

And a very good one. Remember mercurochrome?
Thus, in multi-dose vials of vaccine, you can puncture the top as many times as you need and be reasonably sure that any germ introduced by accident will not be able to grow in the vial and later infect the next customer.

A simple alternative is to only use single-dose vials. More time needed to package each of them, extra room needed to stockpile them, too. Thus slightly more expensive than multiple-dose vials.
But, eh, the customer is king.

GMO food are endocrine disruptors? Do you mean the pesticides in them?
Argh, thread derail. Let’s stay on topic, please.


What is the purpose/necessity of thimerosol?

Despite your apparent trollish behavior, I thought I’d address this question, since some readers might not actually know.

Thimerosal is a preservative only used in “killed” vaccines; live vaccines do not have and never had any thimerosal in them. It prevents the growth of bacteria and fungi that might otherwise contaminate a multi-dose vial of vaccine once the seal on the vial is punctured for the first or subsequent doses, causing significant harm. Single-dose vials or pre-filled syringes do not require thimerosal to be added, since they are, presumably, sterile and are not at risk of contamination. The down side is that they cost more, due to changes in manufacturing process and the need for more materials (e.g., 10 vials for single-dose use vs. 1 vial for 10-dose use).

Some single-dose formulations may still have some trace amounts of thimerosal left over from the manufacturing process (need to keep the bulk constituents free from contaminating bacteria and fungi). The final vaccine will have gone through a sort of washing process to remove as much thimerosal as possible from the product that actually gets shipped out to pharmacists and doctors’ offices, though there may still be some tiny bit that could not be removed.

In the U.S., we have a pretty good infrastructure to support single-dose vaccines. We have adequate resources to store them at the right temperature, even while shipping them from one location to another. Shipping is fast and easy. And our distribution is fast and frequent. Other ares of the world, where this infrastructure does not exist, have a greater risk that a vaccine will be contaminated before it is used, thus necessitating the use of preservatives. Likewise, it is often more cost-effective to use multi-dose vials (longer shelf-life to accommodate slower vaccine uptake). This is very important when considering available funds of the recipient country.

So, that’s a brief summation of why thimerosal is used and needed in certain vaccines. If you like your vaccine with a side of contamination with toxic foreign bacteria or fungi, then argue to completely ban preservatives like thimerosal. Me, I’ll take the safer vaccines that use them.

Alt med advocates trick people by focusing on side effects ( real and imagined) of pharmacological products and through bizarre inversions of logic, relative risk, and time sequence then proclaim that the product *causes* illness ( either the targetted one or another): so vaccines *cause* autism, auto-immunological conditions, god knows what else; chemotherapy *causes* cancer; drugs used against mental illness *cause* it ( and suicide); ARVs “cause” AIDS.

Of course shooting holes in this line of reasoning is easier than shooting fish in a barrel**- so I’ll just end on that note as I have an appointment.

** why would anyone want to *shoot* fish in a barrel?

@ Denice Walter

why would anyone want to *shoot* fish in a barrel?

“why would anyone want to shoot a bird?”
Mitch Leary, in the movie “In the Line of Fire” with Clint Eastwood.

(from memory of reading it in a different language, so I may not be accurate; and sorry, could not resist quoting 🙂

I believe it’s not so much about wanting to, but more about being absolutely sure to hit a fish, since the barrel is a container of packed herrings.

Although frankly, shooting fishes in a barrel would be more entertaining than reading the drivel of these quacks. They always end up with a pharma shill gambit, a Godwin, or both.

“As a fellow obstetrician and gynecologist….” Really Dr. Schneider?

Technically…Dr. Schneider trained as an OB/GYN…but left that noble profession years ago. She runs the “Center for Autism Research and Education in Phoenix Arizona”. She is listed as a DAN!! doctor who “treats” autism, Tourettes Syndrome, PANDAS and a variety of other disorders with special diets, supplements that she sells, and HBOT. It is strictly a “cash upfront” medical practice and she does not accept insurance payments.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is fully on board with the immunization against the seasonal flu virus, of pregnant and nursing women. Their website has position papers about the totally disproved theory of thimerisol in vaccines causing autism. Here is their latest recommendation about immunizing pregnant and nursing women:

Seasonal Flu

All women who will be pregnant during influenza (flu) season (October through May) should receive the inactivated influenza vaccine. The live attenuated influenza vaccine is contraindicated for pregnant women. The influenza vaccine is safe for pregnant women and their unborn children as well as postpartum and breast feeding women and can be given during any trimester. Immunizing pregnant and postpartum women against seasonal influenza can protect the mother and may help her baby by preventing the spread of the flu from mother to child following delivery. The seasonal flu vaccine has been given safely to millions of pregnant women over the past 45 years. The flu shot has been recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for pregnant women for many years.

Color me totally unimpressed with this DAN!! doctor’s advice…the “Morticia”/Crypt Keeper costume is a fun touch.

The most entertaining shooting of fish in a barrel that I’ve ever seen was done by the Mythbusters. They decided to test it if it was a solitary fish in a barrel of water, rather than a barrel packed full of herring for shipment. (My guess is they’re not aficionados of pickled herring. Philistines.) They did it true Mythbusters style, which means that they used sensors to determine shock waves propagating through the water, built a ballistic dummy fish, and, in the end, ramped up to ludicrous proportions by using a large, truck-mounted automatic machine gun to utterly destroy the barrel.

Pointless, but definitely entertaining. 😉

So when I went to see my OB about getting pregnant she talked to me about the dietary restrictions I’d want to follow (no alcohol or raw fish, limit tuna and other high-mercury fish intake, lots of folic acid, etc.) and then proceeded to shoot me up with a flu vac, h1n1 vac (this was late 2009), and tetanus shot. The TINY bit of mercury that may or may not have been present in those shots did not concern her, and was much better than the danger those flus, tetanus or pertussis might have posed to me and the fetus I conceived a few weeks later.

Get your shots.

And the RHogam comment upthread is so scary to me. Why would people advise against Rhogam where indicated? It’s an incredible lifesaver — before the shot, they estimate 10,000 babies a year died of hemolytic disease.

troll @9 — Orac may be egomaniacal — when he’s not a box of blinking lights, he’s a surgeon. Egomaniacs are probably overrepresented among surgeons, just like bloviating know-it-alls are overrepresented among the professoriate (that would be me, guilty as charged), and bullies are overrepresented among the police.

But Orac is, in reality, an extremely well-educated scientist, an often hilarious and extremely effective writer, and a blinking box with immense patience for wading through drivel, so that I don’t have to.

That, plus he has a whole huge warehouse full of irony meters, for replacing the ones that blow out so often.

Pregnant women should avoid mercury, eh?

Do you want them to stop breathing, drinking and eating then? Wouldn’t that be a tad counterproductive?

FFS, get a thimerosal free shot and quitcherbitchin.

She is listed as a DAN!! doctor who “treats” autism, Tourettes Syndrome, PANDAS and a variety of other disorders

Odd, that – she seems to instigate the symptoms of Tourette’s in me.

Of course shooting holes in this line of reasoning is easier than shooting fish in a barrel

The fish in question would contain orders of magnitude more mercury (and in a more harmful form) than is present in a vaccine.

Back in the days when I was young and vain enough to go to the bother of wearing contact lenses, all the rinsing and storage solutions contained thimerosol for the purpose of keeping bacteria out. I was always quite particular about washing my hands, and not touching the tip of the bottle to other surfaces, etc., but I had many friends who were not nearly so squeamish as I was, and it’s probably a really good thing there was such a thing as thimerosol in those solutions. Towards the end of my contact wearing days, I noticed that I didn’t see thimerosol listed on the bottles anymore. I wonder if it was around the same time mercurochrome, which my grandmother liberally painted on my many childhood cuts and scrapes, was removed from the shelves? Jeez, amazing I survived my childhood and young adulthood, all that mercury I absorbed . . . 🙂

@ Candy: Fortunately, I never developed an allergy to thimerisol when I wore contact lenses. Perhaps our systems were “primed” from the mercurochrome and merthiolate that your grandmother and my mother liberally painted our scrapes and cuts with.

Merthiolate (TM) is the brand name of thimerisol. A supposed mercury-free Merthiolate is still available on certain websites…if you care to risk any contaminants that might be contained in antiseptics manufactured in third world countries.

Just a personal note:
~2 months ago I got a free flu shot at the CBC (blood donor place).

CBC has no problem with vaccines.

To all the pro-disease people: be sure to refuse blood donations.

I’ve heard that pregnant women should also avoid eclipses, fluoridated water, and being startled and knocked down by an elephant, lest the child pay the price for their exposure to these things.

(Mad props if you can tell me the movies these refer to.)

Candace (#11): it may be that one of the reasons major hospitals have a high rate of caesarian deliveries is because they’re major hospitals, so that any potentially problematic deliveries are referred to them in the first place…

@ Candy and Lilady:

How about all the hexachlorophene I ingested with Stripe™ toothpaste? At least I’m young enough to have missed the thorium-salt toothpaste that “radiated away” tooth decay. (But I did get my feet fluoroscoped many times at the Buster Brown shoe store.)

@ Ren: So, does herr doktor bimler when the prize? I see internet references to Hindu practices for pregnant women to avoid lunar and solar eclipses and multiple internet sites about the “dangers” of fluoridated water.

I actually know a woman who got head-butted by a wandering cow at an airport in India. She wasn’t pregnant but it was a painful experience, touring with a fractured coccyx.

@ The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge: I bet Candy and I were also exposed to hexachlorophene in a “certain” soap and a “certain” mouthwash.

I suspect that Candy is younger than us, and never had the joyful experience of running into the shoe store for frequent fluoroscopy of our feet.

I bet Candy and I were also exposed to hexachlorophene in a “certain” soap and a “certain” mouthwash.

I’m still bitching about them taking that certain soap off the market—I can see banning it in toothpaste and mouthwash, but hand soap? The stuff they replaced it with gives me hives.

@ The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge: That “certain” soap was Dial soap…I found it to be very harsh and switched to a milder brand before the hexachlorophene was replaced with a non-toxic ingredient.

Cripes, I was practically marinated in Phisohex as a kid. (I vaguely recall bathing with Lava, as well.)


(I vaguely recall bathing with Lava, as well.)

My memory of the Lava bath is actually quite vivid, and I was only in kindergarten. I believe it took off some skin. It was the first and last time that happened.

@ Todd W: I was unaware that the IDSA tackled this outbreak at their meeting and unaware that David Kirby had “made the rounds” to tout his book.

Since the outbreak in Minneapolis, there also been considerable outreach to the Somali community to educate them about the dangerous practice of not immunizing their children against measles.

Added to the roles of Kirby and DAN! doctors for this serious outbreak is the significant part Andrew Wakefield played by scaring Somali parents with his theories of vaccine injuries. Wakefield visited Minneapolis at least three times December 2010 – March 2011 specifically to meet with the Somali community to discuss increased incidence of “ASD associated with Measles vaccinations”. The man is a public health menace.

So where are the SafeMinds posters…now that their OB/Gyn doctor spokesperson has been “outed” as a DAN! practitioner?

Sorry, Lilady—I assumed you meant PhisoHex.

It’s interesting to me that the nutcases have started hyperventilating about “mercury” again. Maybe aluminum was too hard a sell—too many people said: “Wait a minute; isn’t that the third most common element on Earth”?

“But it’s gotta be something, something in vaccines…mercury, aluminum, water…no, water won’t work. We’ll go back to mercury—the marks have probably forgotten about that by now….”


When the outbreak first started, I figured that much of the blame lay with people like JB Handley, who told the Somalis not to trust public health officials, and Wakefield, whose visits almost certainly included anti-vaccine talking points. When I saw the info in the IDSA poster (didn’t attend the conference, but found out about it from the MDH) and saw the dip in vaccine uptake, I checked to see if it lined up with Handley’s visits. It didn’t, which got me wondering what happened.

While Handley and Wakefield may not have been the prime movers of the low immunization rates, they certainly did not help improve things at all and made disease prevention efforts that much harder for MDH.

Woo-meisters frighten people off medical advice and replace it with wishful thinking: I have often heard a certain idiot talk callers out of taking meds or getting vaccines.

I know a 60-something, Caren, who does clerical work where I often do business: two years ago she described how she didn’t want to take a drug prescribed for her for cholesterol. She didn’t think much of Pharma, thought that products were “pushed” too much by doctors, heard about the side-effects, said her cholestrol wasn’t *very* high; she admitted to a family history of CV though. She replaced the med with a red yeast rice supplement.( I never questioned her in detail about her alt med beliefs or sources of information although I voiced my concern ).

Visiting her place of employment last week, I was informed by her co-worker that she had had a stroke and was undergoing surgery on the carotid artery. She has some difficulties with speaking but otherwise seems alright I was told.

Now we can never tell if refusing the drug had anything to do with her present condition- too many variables are involved- *but* is it ever really a good idea to dis-regard a doctor’s advice and replace it with alt med speculation?

Herr Doktor… Correct on number three. “Apocalypto” touched on the myths of the eclipse and the pregnant woman. Remember that she was in a pit, so she missed the eclipse and a healthy baby was born.

The fluoride reference is from the “Fluoride Deception”, a conspiracy documentary, which I also consider personally to be a work of fiction.

Needless to say, this is just my opinion and does not represent that of any of my universe of employers. Having written that, I fully expect yet another antivaxer to complain about this comment to the powers that be.

Still, mad props to the Herr Doktor.

Denice: As you might know, red yeast rice supplements actually contain lovastatin, just not in any kind of predictable dose. Why anyone would think hit-or-miss dosing is somehow safer than carefully controlled dosing is beyond me (although it reminds me of teenagers who refuse to carry condoms with them because doing so would make any sexual encounter seem less spontaneous).

@ ebohlman:

Well…. woo-meisters like to push the idea that *natural* supplements contain an alternate to meds that is safer, greener, and intrinsically morally purer than nasty old Pharma- what they fail to inform their customers is that- as you said- dosing can be unpredictable and issues like contamination can be relevant. The “research” is another story.

I perpetually hear about “studies” that “prove” that some vitamin, mineral, or herb shows superior test results to pharmaceuticals. Simultaneously, followers are given exaggerated reasons to fear standard meds.

People love this faux natural nonsense. I don’t know if they’re masochists or just love living dangerously.

Denise #8 is right on target. This kind of pernicious propaganda works better if it’s “supposed to be seen by doctors only,” thereby making idiots think they’re watching something super-duper special.

Candace #11 makes a very good point. The way to deal with woo isn’t to require complete scientific rigor from patients, it’s to draw the line where the harmful stuff happens. For example if someone wants to take harmless supplements, fine just as long as they keep taking their prescriptions: save the warnings for the supplements that may be harmful or have some undesirable interaction with the prescriptions. The latter warnings are far more likely to be taken seriously. In general: we are more likely to be taken seriously in advocating SBM, when we are not seen as shrill ideologues.

Dearest OracisaQuack,
Your brilliant wit and piercing insight has totally changed my life. I am now returning to my previous world view of magical-thinking, altie credulousness. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty much certain almost all of us shills and minions feel that way now, gnashing our teeth and rending our garments in shame and regret for wasting our precious time (not to mention bodily fluids) following this awful “doctor” and his inhuman (if you only knew) PharmaMasters™. Once again, thanks for your life-changing post. Don’t give up. Please keep on posting your cutting-edge missives here until all of those still cowering in the darkness of “science” join us as we stand here, hand-in-hand, on the shores of paradise, under the blazing Truth of CAM.

Let us not forget our gracious First Lady Rosalyn Carter and her advocacy on behalf of our children:

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter champions vaccines
By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY
Updated 11/14/2011 6:29 PM

WASHINGTON – Although former first lady Rosalynn Carter is best known for her work promoting mental health, she also has championed vaccines for children for four decades.

* Carter says parents need to talk to other moms and dads to help dispel dangerous myths that are preventing some families from fully protecting their children.

H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

Carter says parents need to talk to other moms and dads to help dispel dangerous myths that are preventing some families from fully protecting their children.

H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

Carter says parents need to talk to other moms and dads to help dispel dangerous myths that are preventing some families from fully protecting their children.

During her years in the Georgia governor’s mansion, and again in the White House, Carter helped lead efforts to pass state laws requiring children be immunized before entering school. In 1991 — after a resurgence of measles that killed nearly 150 people — she co-founded Every Child By Two, a nonprofit that promotes infant vaccinations.

Now, as the USA grapples with its largest measles outbreak in 15 years, she says parents need to take up the banner. “It would be great if we could get parents all over the country talking to their friends and neighbors, just talking about the situation and how some babies are not being immunized,” says Carter, 84, of Plains, Ga. She was in Washington recently for Every Child By Two’s 20th anniversary.

“It’s one of the best possible things you can do for a child. To have babies suffer unnecessarily, it’s just so sad. I know people who don’t have their babies immunized think they’re doing it for the good of the child. But the good of the child is to not have these terrible diseases.”

Only 1% of U.S. children haven’t had any vaccines. But more than one in 10 families now selectively delays or skips important shots, according to a recent study in Pediatrics.

At least 220 measles cases have been reported so far this year, more than three times the usual number, says the CDC. About 87% of cases were in unvaccinated people; the rest were in children too young to be vaccinated. There also have been recent outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps.

“Those who don’t vaccinate are clustered in hot spots across the country, where epidemics could break out at any minute,” Carter says. Still, she says there has been great progress since the 1970s, when her husband, Jimmy, was president: Back then, only about one-third of states required children to get shots before starting school; today, all states require vaccinations, though some have liberal exemption policies.

“Parents need to know these vaccines are safe,” Carter says, pointing to more than a dozen studies refuting claims that shots cause autism.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Carter about 25 years ago at a developmental disabilities/mental health advocacy conference…she is an extraordinarily dedicated advocate who really has had an impact in all of our lives.

can you please also point out that “ethylmercury” is not the same as “methylmercury” is not the same as “mercury” and that the body is dealing differently with all three compounds?

#10 “So, morphing troll, are you Mr. or Ms. Merola?”

No, are you?

#24 I’m curious how you can get your nose up his butt like that with his head in the way. And I’m quite saddened that your students only aspire to be an assistant professor. That’s sort of like Igor to Dr. Frankenstein.

#50 Your poor attempt at sarcasm and enormous strawman (maybe you should hang it up and call it David) does nothing to change the fact that Orac is a pretentious windbag who only spouts this drivel for his own self gratification and ego masturbation. And I do love how you sycophants immediately think that anyone who doesn’t buy his incompetent mumblings is immediately anti-vaccine or an alt-med practitioner. Sort of like how anti-vaxxers call anyone who disagrees with them shills. The irony is delicious, yes?

Hmmmm……Listen to a Respected Cancer Surgeon & Researcher or anonymous internet troll…..tough call, huh?

Dunno. I was going for anonymous troll – its capitalization was so flamboyant and convincing, but seems to lose its sharpness lately. So I’d chose Orac after all. There is something convincing in plexiglass boxes of blinking lights.

Also, that facts stuff.

@ Pareidolius:

“Hand-in-hand, on the shores of paradise”?
Yeah, right. More likely, me and you at on the grounds of a faux Italianate villa in Mustique, over mixed drinks, comparing our portfolios and Christmas bonuses while the underlings compete for our attention. Heart-warming scene. See you there, the 27th.

@ g724:

Thanks. And I tend agree with you : we shouldn’t be shrill but remember that we have a divers set of SBM supporters who communicate across various situations. I suspect that quite a few are frustrated with what feels like a Sisyphusian necessity of continuously returning to respond to the same alt med talking points- *plus* others who have personally witnessed injury from un-realistic beliefs: emotion can pack a mighty whallop that affects written words.

Just as our un-seen lurkers must certainly be distributed normally so too probably are our SB commenters. Different people from many backgrounds who agree on a few points- and that’s the beauty of it. Supplements per se are not the problem: beliefs about supplements as *panaecea* or as “magikal elixirs” which co-incide with wishful thinking _are_. That’s what we’re battling and it’s a belief that is out there in force- have you ever seen US/ UK annual sales figures? Can’t all be for actual deficiencies. I rest my case.

I just got an e-mail from Doctors Without Borders with the arresting header: “Vaccines As Stocking Stuffers?”

They’re asking for donations of course, and the letter suggests that “$70 – Can purchase enough vaccine to inoculate 175 children against measles.”

Sounds like a good cause to me – they’re on my Xmas list.


And the RHogam comment upthread is so scary to me. Why would people advise against Rhogam where indicated? It’s an incredible lifesaver — before the shot, they estimate 10,000 babies a year died of hemolytic disease.

I could see Jeohovah’s Witnesses objecting; while we may think it’s loony, they do have an actual religious injunction against the use of blood products, and Rhogam is made from human plasma. But I’ve yet to run into anyone that actually does object on those grounds. Mostly, it’s the usual anti-vax talking points. I even ran into someone once who suggested that my daughter was autistic because of the Rhogam shot I received whilst pregnant with her. Forgiving the ridiculousness of that claim, even if autism was a risk, it’s a lower risk than allowing my body to make Rh antibodies. Luckily, hubby is Rh- as well, so the risk is low given that the rhesus factor is a dominant trait — but I used Rhogam to make that low risk effectively zero.

Some have suggested that was Anne Boleyn’s problem. If she was Rh- and Henry VIII was Rh+, it could explain her inability to produce an heir for him. She did have one healthy pregnancy (well, mostly — Elizabeth I was slightly premature) but the subsequent ones were all miscarriages (and there is some debate in the historical literature as to the number of these). However, there are plenty of other possible reasons why a woman might have repeat miscarriages, especially back then.

@Bacon, the Dangerous kind…

Me too. The wife and I are getting them for some of our friends and colleagues. She talked me out of sending one to, ehem, “certain unsavory characters”.

She’s no fun.

Dearest Orakeesa,

Whaddaya mean “poor attempt?” I used big words and everything.

As for your ad hominem attack against the good doctor/blinky box . . . thing, it’s ridiculous (hence the ridicule). You may not like him or his style, but his achievements, credentials and understanding of science are vastly superior to yours. A windbag? Well he is a tad loquacious, but he’s our windbag. Whose windbag are you? And yes, I do assume you’re an altie since you accused Orac of pseudoscience, which in itself is mirth-inducing. Please enlighten us as to your scientific credentials so that we may tremble in awe.

“In other words, the EPA built in a ten-fold margin of safety into its reference dose for mercury. Why the number ten? Who knows?”

The safety factor is a reflection on the the NOAEL/LOAEL from the three studies.

Since they were all reasonably well put together and were not performed in animals, you’d use a safety factor of 10.

If you were unsure of the quality of the studies, then the safety factor would (obviously) be larger – the same for studies performed in animals – they result in a larger safety factor since not all test animal systems respond to chemicals in the same manner as humans do.

“..Insuring pregnant women avoid exposure to mercury”

They mean “ensuring”.
So silly when a professionally produced film can’t even get the grammar correct, never mind the facts.

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