November 22, 2010— -- Perhaps you're thinking of grabbing that significant other and heading to the movies to check out one of the new romantic comedies. That'll be sure to fuel the flames between you two because the weather sure isn't, you think.
A new video campaign, running with other previews in movie theaters around nine cities nationwide beginning the day after Thanksgiving, will urge viewers -- especially pregnant mothers and children -- to "demand" your doctor give you a mercury-free flu vaccine this year.
The video features Lyn Redwood, executive director of SafeMinds who warns that many flu vaccines contain mercury, suggested by the organization to be a potential toxin linked to neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.
"Don't take the risk. Demand mercury-free flu shots," Redwood says in the video.
The public service announcement is one of the largest campaigns launched by SafeMinds yet. The group estimates it will be viewed by more than half a million moviegoers. But the message has many experts bracing for another turn on the vaccine-safety merry-go-round.
"I don't look at it as a PSA but as a PDA -- a public disservice announcement," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Multi-dose vials of flu vaccines, which contain about ten flu shots in one vial, are the most common type of vaccine manufactured for public use. Thimerosal, a compound that contains mercury, is used as to preserve the vaccine.
However, vials that contain only a single dose of the flu shot, along with the nasal spray vaccine, are manufactured without thimerosal. Those, according to SafeMinds, are the type of vaccines consumers should demand.
But many manufacturers don't make enough, and many local pharmacies and doctors' offices may not carry single-dose vaccines. Some experts say they fear that consumers who will have to request and wait for the special order – if providers will place them -- may choose not to get vaccinated at all.
"You might say the heck with it. And I would think that would be a most unfortunate decision," said Schaffner, who added that the flu vaccine is the single best source of protection against the flu.
But according to SafeMinds executive director Redwood, the more people ask for thimerosal-free vaccines, the more likely doctors will keep them in stock.
"I think what's going to happen is that the consumer will drive the market," said Redwood. "The manufacturers are just meeting market demand."
Single-dose vaccines may also be more expensive, since the vaccine is packaged individually by manufacturers.
It's only a few dollars more for each shot -- a minimal cost, especially for pregnant women, said Redwood.
"We want healthy babies, we want healthy mothers, and we don't want infectious disease either," said Redwood. "And I think we could have it all."
The American Lung Association estimates that nearly 36,000 people die from complications of the flu each year.
Redwood said the campaign is not meant to diminish the importance of getting the flu vaccine. In fact, she said it should "educate and encourage" more people to get vaccinated.
"This campaign is about making sure that when you get your flu vaccine, you request it without mercury," she said.
Many organizations like SafeMinds are grounded on the purported link between chemicals in vaccines and autism. However, many studies say there is no causal association between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders.
But some experts are looking past the debate.
"We're never going to convince SafeMinds that it doesn't matter what type of flu vaccine you get," said Dr. Jon Abramson, chair of the committee of infectious disease at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Abramson said the video campaign may prompt many to ask their doctors about which type of vaccine is appropriate. He said many will probably respond that, "from a medical standpoint there's just no difference."
Schaffner agreed, saying while there's no reason to request thimerosal-free flu vaccines, a patient has the right to ask for it if it makes them feel more comfortable.
"You may just have to make the extra effort to get it," said Schaffner.
"To me, it doesn't matter," said Abramson. "To us the most important thing is for people to get the vaccine. So if they're concerned for their own personal reasons that we have it without thimerosal, we need to make sure they'll get it if that's what they want."