Vaccinations and Jenny McCarthy

No one is quite sure how many people were living on the American continents when Columbus landed on Hispaniola.  The general scholarly consensus is that the population was at least 50 million, but there’s considerable evidence for a larger population, possibly as many as 100 million.  But then came pandemic, the greatest in history.  When we talk about The Black Death, the plague that devastated Europe in the mid-fourteenth century and subsequently, most scholars come to the horrific conclusion that as many as a third of all the people in Europe may have died.  The Native American pandemic was almost certainly much worse, per capita.  Up to 90 percent of Native Americans may have died, of smallpox, mumps, measles, and a noxious stew of other diseases.

Let’s talk about smallpox.  It’s surely one of the greatest killers in history, with an 80% mortality rate for infected children, accounting for millions of deaths annually.  As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization estimates that smallpox claimed two million victims.  Today, however, due to widespread vaccination of children, smallpox has officially been eradicated.  One of the greatest killers in history, a disease that has caused untold misery and heartache and death, is no more.  That surely must count as one of the greatest public health triumphs in human history.

Mumps was once a deadly and virulent disease.  So was measles. Neither has yet been eliminated, but the widespread use of the MRR vaccine, which protects children from mumps, measles and rubella, has made them pretty rare.

When I was a kid, we had to go to the doctor and get a shot; our vaccinations.  I guess I was about five.  That would have been the MMR.   Later, I remember when I was in elementary school, all us kids were pulled out of class, and we all were herded into the lunchroom, and given vaccinations.   I remember we were given a sugar cube in a little paper cup by a kindly though harrowed-looking school nurse: polio vaccines. It was just normal.  It was what happened.

In 1998, the Lancet (one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world) published an article by a Dr. Andrew Wakefield suggesting a link between vaccinations and autism.  The paper has since been retracted, Dr. Wakefield’s research was shown to be fraudulent, and he has been stripped of his medical license.  The Institute of Medicine cited over a thousand peer-reviewed articles in the medical literature in a study that concluded that no link between vaccinations and autism exists.  The Journal of Pediatrics conducted a second study, and reached the same conclusion. There is no credible reason to conclude that vaccinations have any connection to autism.

Jenny McCarthy is a former MTV VJ, a former Playboy bunny, a model and actress and television personality.  I don’t mean to speak dismissively of her, but she does strike me as one of those people who become celebrities without ever having done much for which they might be celebrated.  Having said that, I’ve always liked her.  She had a comedy show on MTV which was pretty funny.  She had a sitcom, which failed, and she’s been in some movies, essentially all of them terrible:  BASEketball, Scream III, both of which I (regrettably) saw, and Dirty Love, which, whew, dodged a bullet there. She’s charming and funny and doesn’t take her beauty terribly seriously–that’s her package.  She also can’t act.  Basically, she’s able to play Jenny McCarthy.  And all that is why she’s sort of a natural for The View.  She’s scheduled to replace Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who played the role of ‘pretty blonde token conservative.’  I always sort of liked Hasselbeck too, on the exceedingly rare occasions when I watched The View.  I thought she had guts, taking on Rosie and Whoopi and the rest of them.  Jenny McCarthy will bring comic timing, personality and charisma.

And. . . less positive qualities.

McCarthy married film director John Asher in 1999.  She had a baby, Evan, in 2002.  In 2005, Evan was diagnosed with autism, though some doctors believe his symptoms are more consistent with Landau-Kleffner syndrome. In her book, Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism, a book I have not read, and in subsequent appearances on Oprah’s show (which I have seen, the show and Jenny McCarthy’s appearances on it), she claimed that Evan’s condition ended her marriage, as Asher couldn’t handle it.  I have no doubt whatever that the entire situation, her son’s condition and coping with it in the midst of dealing with a deeply troubled marriage was tremendously difficult and painful.  I have tremendous sympathy for her, and for her son. She’s been through a lot.  She’s worked tirelessly to find different treatments for her son.  She claims to have found one that worked for him.  Power to her.

However much sympathy we may have for her, though, she has used her status as a celebrity to discourage people from vaccinating their children.  She has spoken out repeatedly against vaccinations.  She believes that vaccines cause autism.  She proselytizes for that point of view. And she has been labeled a ‘threat to public health’ for taking that stance.

A few points seem worth making in this regard:

1) Jenny McCarthy is an American citizen, and has the right to voice her opinion on any subject she chooses to address.  ABC similarly has the right to put her on their most popular daytime program.

2) If you’re a parent of a young child, you enter an entirely new world, of fear and paranoia and desperation and love.  You feel incredibly vulnerable.  Every time your child does anything, you want to tell people, and you want to know what it means.  And if she gets sick, it feels like the end of the world.  You’re willing to listen to anyone, however crazy they might seem.  If a hobo in the street tells you you’re not swaddling properly, you’ll trade him a fifth of Jack Daniels for swaddling advice.  If your dotty Aunt Caroline says that it’s bad to own a cat, because cats can suck the life right out of your infant, just suck it right out of there, you may well decide to get rid of dear old Mr. Tibbles, even if you love him, know he would never hurt you, and even if you think Aunt Caroline is senile.  You listen to advice from everyone, including doctors, yes, but you also don’t trust doctors.  They might be wrong, you know.  And this is OUR BABY.

3) An attractive, authoritative, confident sounding Mom may be the one person you listen to the most, even if you don’t know her personally at all.  This may be especially true if she’s on TV, and especially on a program with someone like Oprah Winfrey or Barbara Walters.  And if she tells you, ‘the conventional wisdom is. . . . and here’s why it’s wrong. . . . ‘, well, that’s gold.  You don’t want conventional wisdom.  This is your kid we’re talking about.

4)  Really really smart people can have the most astounding blind spots, and can come to believe some of the most extraordinary nonsense.  Case in point: I think Steve Jobs was one of the most brilliant Americans ever.  But Jobs had this special ‘fruitarian’ diet he swore by.  Ashton Kutcher, preparing to play Jobs in a movie, tried the diet–it nearly destroyed his pancreas.  Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer.  This genius, but he also had this screwy diet he believed in, and it may even have killed him.

I think Oprah is brilliant.  I suspect that Jenny McCarthy’s IQ is way way up there.  I think she’s probably really bright.  But . . . blind spots.  There are even Supreme Court judges who believe that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, for heck’s sake.

5) There is no credible evidence suggesting a link between vaccination and autism. None.  The one doctor who said there was turned out to be a fraud.  I think it’s a little mean to create a jennymccarthybodycount.com website.  Sort of personalizes the issue in unfortunate ways. But if I was a public health official, I suspect that, uh. . . . Jenny McCarthy probably wouldn’t be my favorite celebrity.

6) I think Jenny McCarthy, by her presence on The View, is likely to persuade at least some parents to not vaccinate their children.  And I think children may well die as a result.  Which leads me to. . . .

7) Maybe possibly ABC should rethink this decision?

Fair? Unfair?  I will admit that I haven’t carefully researched the ‘vaccination/autism’ link at all carefully.  I don’t really think I need to.  This isn’t an issue with two sides.  This is an issue about which the entire medical establishment agrees completely.

So vaccinate your kids.  Seriously, vaccinate them. It’s really really important.  And if Jenny McCarthy says she’s got this great salsa recipe, hey, try it, maybe it’s great.  But she’s wrong about vaccines.

 

12 thoughts on “Vaccinations and Jenny McCarthy

  1. juliathepoet

    Oregon has more than its share of people who don’t immunize, and we’re losing our herd protection. There are people who legitimately can’t be immunized, and if everyone who can be immunized is, then we protect those who can’t.

    It bothers me when people think that they have no obligation to protect others, and it seems that people all along the ideological spectrum people want the benefits of a society that works together, without any personal risk or responsibility. Whether it is not vaccinating, but wanting to have the protection of herd immunization is only a tiny piece of the benefits most people have have simply by being born in the US.

    The infrastructure we all enjoy, was created, and paid for, by the investment in the country that started during the depression and continued through the 70s. We fought a World War, but we didn’t forget that we needed to take care of the needs of our country. We have been on cruise control since then, but the infrastructure of the country is crumbling, and people aren’t worried, at least not enough to work together on a solution.

    The fact that junk science and get rich quick schemes are very popular in current Mormon culture has always bothered me. Lately, I have been reading more about Mormon pioneers who settled so much of the West. The more I read about their focus on building strong communities, long-term planning, and making sacrifices now so that the future would be better, the more confused I get.

    How did the focus change from building monuments to the best parts of our ideals, and change to wanting as much as we can get for as little as possible? How did so many people become willing to believe a consensus of scientists are wrong? How did we, as a country, get to this point? Why aren’t more of my fellow Mormons demanding we follow the “more costly” path, that would build stronger and more lasting communities? Why aren’t we demanding that we end world hunger, instead of spending money on a huge military? Why do we allow political boundaries to let us reduce the expectations we have for members of the church who live in another country than we do? Why do we not see the chance to work together as the opportunity it is, and instead only consider ourselves worthy of consideration? Why do we think we deserve the bounty of the earth without investing parts of ourselves, our labor, our money?

    I’m not sure exactly when things were broken, but I think that the combination of the idea that baby boomers believed, that things would always get better, and the laziness that comes when people believe that there is no real cost for goods, (because they can pretend that Walmart gives them what they want at a below market, environmental and human costs, since all those costs are being paid in other countries) then there is no reason to try and understand the world. The selfishness that is encouraged by a structure that doesn’t give voices to saints in countries who live with the costs of US emperialistic markets, will eventually cause fissures in the global church. At least I hope it will. I am often ashamed at the choices and voices that I hear coming from people whose privilege and selfishness is so unChristlike, that I wonder if they think that the scriptures apply to them or not.

    Reply
    1. knikki

      You know, it’s funny – because I had a houseguest recently who, on the last night of their stay, felt compelled to tell me I was going to hell. This struck me as odd, as I believe I do live a respectable life, and I do strive to do good works – none of which make an iota of difference according to this man. He then proceeded to tell me how all scientists are minions of the devil for trying to prove that God doesn’t exist. I thought…..dude, I totally respect your fervor for your faith – but seriously? You’re condemning ALL scientists and ALL people who don’t subscribe to your specific flavor of Christianity? That’s harsh, man. That’s harsh.

      I respect Jenny McCarthy’s right to believe as she chooses – but Eric, I do agree with you – this has a potential to harm children. And while I’d like to believe that parents can separate science and celebrity – I do believe there’s a good portion of the population that believe everything on television (or on the internet, gasp!) must be true – and that worries me.

      But I’m not sure how far I’d go to impose my enlightened, intelligent beliefs on them. As much as I want to save families the suffering and the heartache, I can’t bear the thought of ANYONE imposing their moral and intellectual values on someone else. Because so many of the people that I love and admire believe differently than I do….and I don’t believe they are necessarily wrong.

      But protecting the kids……man, this is a really tough issue for me.

      Reply
  2. juliathepoet

    Sorry, that got rambling. You can remove it if you want. It has been a very frustrating day. I didn’t mean that the things I have read on this blog were unChristlike.

    Reply
  3. Lori Lenny

    It’s amazing to find such a well written and well considered editorial on a religious website. The author may not be an expert on autism or medicine, but there is common sense in abundance, and a very rational, intelligent conclusion. Vaccinate your kids. Protect their lives.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      I don’t really intend this as a religious website. I’m mostly going for eclectic here. I am a Mormon, but most of my posts are either about pop culture (and I’m in favor of it), or politics (and I’m a liberal).

      Reply
  4. mantanz

    I never, EVER thought I’d agree with a Christian, let alone a Mormon, haha, but well said, mate, absolutely spot on. She’s an incredibly dangerous woman and she doesn’t even realise it.

    Reply
      1. mantanz

        True! Though I did have a bit of a giggle at the irony of “Really really smart people can have the most astounding blind spots, and can come to believe some of the most extraordinary nonsense” 😉

        Reply
  5. Nicky/Elizabeth

    Hi! I think I may have had you for Doctrine and Covenants at BYU back in 2005-ish. I appreciate your willingness to attempt a very fair and even-handed look at this. It takes a big person who can take a subject like vaccination that they feel very passionately about and not resort to character assassination in an attempt to get their point across. So thank you for maintaining a level head about a very controversial topic. However, I do need to point out a couple of errors in your post. (1) Mumps is rarely deadly. From Medscape (an online physician’s resource available to the public): “The prognosis for patients with uncomplicated mumps is excellent. For patients with encephalitis, the prognosis is generally favorable. Reported rates of mumps encephalitis cite 5 cases per 1000 reported mumps cases. Permanent sequelae are rare; however, neurologic damage and death can occur with the average encephalitis case-fatality rate of 1.4%. Approximately 10% of patients develop a mild form of aseptic meningitis, which can be confused with bacterial meningitis. Transient myelitis or polyneuritis is also uncommon.” The reason we vaccinate for mumps is because in about 20-50% of cases in post-pubertal males an infection of the testicles can cause impaired fertility- though complete sterility is extremely rare. You can check this on Medscape’s Mumps prognosis page: http://reference.medscape.com/article/966678-overview#a6 (2) Rubella is not generally deadly and the vaccination program was not instituted to protect children but actually to protect pregnant women in their first trimester. Again from Medscape: ” Rubella is generally a benign communicable exanthematous disease… The major complication of rubella is its teratogenic effects when pregnant women contract the disease, especially in the early weeks of gestation. The virus can be transmitted to the fetus through the placenta and is capable of causing serious congenital defects, abortions, and stillbirths.” In fact, this page states that about half of rubella cases are asymptomatic. Here is the URL for this page: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/968523-overview (3) The measles vaccine has been less effective than health authorities expected. Kindly read this article (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lawrence-solomon/measles-vaccine_b_5376951.html) from the Huffington Post with eminent vaccinologist Gregory Poland who states that the measles vaccine is not effective enough to stop measles outbreaks and immunity conferred by it quickly wanes, but that everyone should get it anyway. There is a similar article in Forbes as well. (Imagine if you went to a used car lot and the salesman admitted that the car you were looking at would break down shortly after leaving the lot, but insisted you buy it anyway. Wouldn’t you find that logic a little peculiar?) (4) You may also be interested to know that during the WHO’s smallpox eradication campaign smallpox persisted despite vaccination efforts. From the 1983 issue of the Microbiological Reviews a quote: “The concept of mass immunization, originally proposed to include 80% of the population in each country to achieve herd immunity proved ineffective as herd immunity did not cease and smallpox persisted in such immunized or ostensibly over-immunized populations.” (pg.491 of document.) http://mmbr.asm.org/content/47/4/455.full.pdf (5) I understand your concern about vaccination rates and promotion of Jenny McCarthy, but I personally believe that the importance of Jenny McCarthy in many parents’ decision not to vaccinate is vastly overestimated. When I made the decision not to vaccinate it was after reading medical and epidemiology journals, Office of Vital Statistics records from several decades, and medical and immunology texts and articles. I had heard about Jenny McCarthy and briefly read a little of one of her books, but she was not a significant factor in my decision. Most of the other mothers I know who do not vaccinate are in the same boat, some made their decision before Jenny McCarthy ever started promoting vaccine choice. Others watched a sibling or child die or become brain damaged after a vaccination. If you would like to better understand the information that made me decide not to vaccinate, please take a look at my blog https://epidemicfacts.wordpress.com/ where I have compiled articles and information from scholarly sources on the lack of effectiveness of vaccines. Most of my sources are actually pro-vaccine and I do not use any links or sources from speculative sites like whale.to, nor do I make use of Jenny McCarthy’s arguments or Andrew Wakefield’s study. Neither of those are necessary for building a rational case for vaccine refusal.

    I don’t expect any of this to change your stance of vaccination, but I do hope it will help you better understand why some of us refuse vaccination. In the future, please be kind enough to check your facts before you post as well. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts in a tolerant and mature manner.

    Reply
  6. Nicky/Elizabeth

    You are most welcome. Thank you for being so gracious. I do think I had D and C from you. I really loved your take on the subject matter, BTW. You were great at presenting a view of Church History that acknowledged the humanity of the early Church leaders while keeping a place open for their divine callings. It really planted the seeds of a broader view of Mormonism for me as I encountered further challenging issues over the years.

    Reply

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