Do Flu Shots Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?

Just as it has in 2021, the right-wing channel Newsmax was promoting dubious claims against vaccines in 2014.

In one example, the channel gave a platform to “holistic” health practitioner Dr. David Brownstein to push the idea that the preservative Thimerosal, which has been used in some types of flu vaccines, was dangerous. According to the channel’s story:

Known as ethylmercury, this type of mercury in flu shots depresses the immune system and damages the brain. Much of ethylmercury is converted in the body to a form of mercury that accumulates in the brain with every annual flu shot and is very difficult to remove. Ethylmercury is much more harmful than methylmercury, the form of mercury found in fish, and is much more likely to stay in the brain.

For years, thimerosal has been associated with an increase in autism, but one of the most troubling connections is with Alzheimer’s. “There’s no doubt that the flu vaccine can lead to Alzheimer’s, because many flu shots are preserved with mercury and it’s a known brain toxin,” says Dr. Brownstein. “You give enough brain toxins and people are going to develop memory issues.”

Brownstein’s claim has been roundly debunked. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the earth’s crust, air, soil, and water.  Two types of mercury to which people may be exposed — methylmercury and ethylmercury — are very different.

Methylmercury is the type of mercury found in certain kinds of fish. At high exposure levels methylmercury can be toxic to people. In the United States, federal guidelines keep as much methylmercury as possible out of the environment and food, but over a lifetime, everyone is exposed to some methylmercury.

Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is cleared from the human body more quickly than methylmercury, and is therefore less likely to cause any harm.

A separate study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2001 found that seniors who received vaccines for the flu and other diseases actually showed less risk of developing cognitive disorders:

For each type of vaccine, subjects who reported at least one vaccination were at lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease than those who had never been exposed, after adjustment for age, sex and education. Vaccines against diphtheria or tetanus and against poliomyelitis were associated with statistically significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (60% and 40% lower respectively). Exposure to influenza vaccine was also related to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but the association did not reach statistical significance. Additional adjustment for smoking, alcohol use, family history of dementia, ADL and IADL, chronic diseases and perceived health status yielded similar results.

The Alzheimer’s Association, a non-profit health group that focuses on researching the disease and helping people living with the disease and their families, has also gone on record refuting conspiracy theories linking vaccinations to the disease.

In 2020 Brownstein was one of several “alternative” health providers who received letters from the Federal Trade Commission warning him for promoting products that Brownstein claimed would help treat COVID-19 including a four-day “regimen” of taking iodine plus vitamins A, C, and D.

“It sends a chill out that you can’t report anything about COVID that’s positive,” Brownstein complained to USA Today. “You can’t report anything that doesn’t fit the narrative that all you can do is wear a mask, social-distance and wait for a vaccine.”

The progressive analysis site Media Matters reported in July 2021 that while it says it supports vaccination efforts, Newsmax has aired several segments in which hosts and guests disparage vaccines against COVID-19, describing them as “experimental” or “against nature.”

Update 7/21/2021, 3:14 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here.