This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
For those not in the know, Jenny McCarthy, American model, actress, author, activist, and Playmate of the Year for 1994, has become a controversial spokesperson for the theory linking vaccines with autism. Her son's autism was caused by a vaccine and she won't stop until the entire world agrees with her.
On Monday July 15, the ABC daytime talk show The View announced that Ms. McCarthy would be joining the panel. There was an immediate hue and cry about this public personality being given a platform from which she can further spread what is considered to be misinformation proven many times over by respected medical experts. How did this Jenny From The Block wind up at the forefront of the anti-vaccine movement?
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a British former surgeon and medical researcher, published a paper linking the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to the appearance of autism and bowel disease. Other researchers failed to reproduce his results. An investigation by The Sunday Times uncovered financial conflicts of interest. There were allegations of misconduct and a subsequent investigation. On January 28, 2010, the British General Medical Council found Wakefield guilty of three dozen charges including four counts of dishonesty. The research paper was fully retracted. Wakefield was struck from the Medical Register and is currently barred from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom. In January 2011, an editorial in the British Medical Journal identified Wakefield's work as an elaborate fraud designed to profit from an MMR vaccination scare.
Nevertheless, Wakefield's public recommendations led to a steep decline in vaccination rates in the United Kingdom and a corresponding rise in measles cases, resulting in serious illness and fatalities.
It would seem that the anti-vaccine movement has been around as long as vaccines have existed. When the British government introduced compulsory smallpox vaccination in 1853, protests started almost immediately. In 1866, the first Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League was formed which changed into the National Anti-Vaccination League in 1896. According to the history of smallpox, this disease was the leading cause of death in the 1800s, killing an estimated 400,000 Europeans per year. Why in heavens name would anybody be against a cure? Wikipedia explains:
The success of immunization programs depends on public confidence in their safety. Concerns about immunization safety often follow a pattern: some investigators suggest that a medical condition is an adverse effect of vaccination; a premature announcement is made of the alleged adverse effect; the initial study is not reproduced by other groups; and finally, it takes several years to regain public confidence in the vaccine.
In other words, right from the get-go, people have drummed up all sorts of reasons to fight mandatory immunization: vaccines do not work; they are or may be dangerous; individuals should rely on personal hygiene instead, or this violates individual rights or religious principles. Smallpox has been eradicated but antivaccinationists persist.
The New England Journal of Medicine – Jan 13/2011
The Age-Old Struggle against the Antivaccinationists by Gregory A. Poland, M.D., and Robert M. Jacobson, M.D.
Today, the spectrum of antivaccinationists ranges from people who are simply ignorant about science (or “innumerate” — unable to understand and incorporate concepts of risk and probability into science-grounded decision making) to a radical fringe element who use deliberate mistruths, intimidation, falsified data, and threats of violence in efforts to prevent the use of vaccines and to silence critics. Antivaccinationists tend toward complete mistrust of government and manufacturers, conspiratorial thinking, denialism, low cognitive complexity in thinking patterns, reasoning flaws, and a habit of substituting emotional anecdotes for data. Their efforts have had disruptive and costly effects, including damage to individual and community well-being from outbreaks of previously controlled diseases, withdrawal of vaccine manufacturers from the market, compromising of national security (in the case of anthrax and smallpox vaccines), and lost productivity.
I read the above and can't help thinking of the conspiracy theorists who believe aliens crashed at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 (Roswell UFO incident) and the World Trade Centre collapsed due to a controlled demolition. Facts, statistics, and science are meaningless in the never-ending quest for answers. As the X-Files said, "The truth is out there," and unfortunately, the quest for answers is more like I already know what I want to hear; I just want the government to admit it.
It's an old philosophical conundrum. Would you sacrifice one person to save a thousand? Would you feel the greater good, the good of everyone, outweighs the good of an individual? (see Wikipedia: Trolley problem) Medical and scientific evidence surrounding vaccinations demonstrate that the benefits of preventing suffering and death from infectious diseases far outweigh rare adverse effects of immunization. (Wikipedia: Vaccine controversies) Smallpox was killing an estimated 400,000 Europeans per year during the 1800s… let me repeat, per year and yet the antivaccinationists persisted.
Today, we are still very much focused on our freedom, the freedom of the individual. But what if your individual freedom affects somebody other than yourself? Jehovah Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. In the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that in cases of "an imminent threat to a child's life", physicians in some cases may "intervene over parental objections". Christian Scientists do not believe in medical intervention. In July 1977 16-month-old Matthew Swan died of bacterial meningitis after his parents were persuaded by two Christian Science practitioners not to take him to a physician; they did eventually take him to hospital, but the infection had by then caused irreversible brain damage.
The United States and other countries followed the example of England's Compulsory Vaccination Act of 1853. Nevertheless, over the years, exemptions were granted on religious grounds.
As of 2013, 48 states allow religious exemptions to compulsory vaccination. Christian Scientists are less likely to recognize and report illness to physicians, and Christian Science practitioners are not allowed to diagnose (which might expose them to allegations of practising medicine without a licence), so infection may remain undetected. There were several outbreaks of infectious diseases at Christian Science schools and camps between 1972 and 1994. In 1972, 128 students at a Christian Science school in Greenwich, Connecticut, contracted polio and four were left partially paralyzed. In 1982, a nine-year-old girl died of diphtheria after attending a Christian Science camp in Colorado. In 1985, 128 people were infected with measles at Principia College, a Christian Science school in Elsah, Illinois, and three died. In 1994, 190 people in six states were infected with measles spread by a child from a Christian Science family in Elsah, after she was exposed to it on a skiing holiday in Colorado.
If somebody decides to not have a blood transfusion, that's their choice. If somebody decides to not go to the hospital, that's their choice. But what if that individual is making a decision which affects their child? What if that individual's decision makes them infectious, a carrier of a communicable disease? Their decision now affects other people. Their freedom is no longer their individual freedom; their freedom is the freedom to affect the lives of others.
Let's say – and I emphasize that no expert agrees to this – your own son's autism or any bad condition even death was caused by a vaccine. Vaccines have proven over and over again to be an effective, no a miraculous means of combating infectious diseases which in previous centuries have sometimes killed millions of people. Would you stop vaccinations, would you give all of us the power to choose whether or not to have a vaccination if there was a risk of death to countless citizens?
I'm sorry about your son but I do not want you or anybody else convinced by you to be running around without following the prescribed regiment of vaccinations. I don't want you to be a possible carrier of infectious diseases. I don't want you to be promoting the avoidance of known preventive methods which could leave others sick or possibly dead.
Am I being draconian? Am I unfeeling?
What if Jenny McCarthy told us a story of her son being saved by not wearing a safety belt? Her son was in a traffic accident and was thrown clear of the car and lived. He would have died if he had remained in the car.
That is a strange case. That is unusual. But I'm sure it has happened. But I am also sure that statistically speaking we are all safer by wearing a safety belt than by not wearing one. Should Jenny McCarthy be telling us all to not wear a safety belt based upon the story of her son? Yes, it's her son. Yes, it's her story but standing back and looking at the entire population, at the collective we, safety belts save us from injury and protect our lives. Do we think of the one as opposed to the many?
I'm sure that in reading this piece, some people are going to feel I am mocking Jenny McCarthy. Okay, sometimes I am but I do feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for any parent who has had to go through the anguish of autism. All parents start with the greatest of hopes for their children and the diagnosis of this condition is a major blow to those dreams.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jenny McCarthy has been desperate, beyond desperate as a mother, trying to help her son. Modern medical science doesn't know everything. Modern medical science is far from perfect. Unfortunately, people in their desperation turn to anything and everything in the vague hope of finding a miracle. And I am not just saying that. Having gone through my own health crisis in 2012, I too have had my period of desperation trying fruitless and unproven alternative treatments. I understand Jenny McCarthy's quest for the truth, her quest for anything to help.
However I must return to statistics and scientific investigation. Unlike Jenny McCarthy, my study of alternative treatments relied on a scientific method. Independent scientists doing independent tests must independently, reliably, and conclusively arrive at the same results. I want to see numbers confirmed by a university sanctioned analytic methodology of double blind testing with a statistically significant cross-section of the population. I cannot let my own personal pain cloud my judgement and cause me to avoid the statistical truth. I know that science is not perfect but it's the best we've got. Even if I was talking about my own child, I would not risk the health and possibly the death of thousands of children because of my one child.
We all are trying to "figure it out." We are trying to understand how the world works. We are seeking to understand the issues of health, marriage, sex, the economy, and global warming. The list goes on and on. Pundits, politicians, and even shamans are all vying for our attention and our belief. We must all be the utmost vigilant to ensure we remain committed to facts and not to faith. Sometimes the distinction between the two can be very blurry. I have faith in God but facts show that the benefits of vaccinations far outweigh any possible risks.
My Final, Final word
Jenny McCarthy is not a scientist. Jenny McCarthy is not a medical professional. Jenny McCarthy has not applied the scientific method I outline above to her quest for the truth. I believe vaccinations must be mandatory. I do not believe individual freedom trumps anyone enacting courses of action known to lead to illness and death or possibly becoming the infectious carrier of a communicable disease. If you want to endanger yourself, fine. But I do not want you to endanger me. Period.
Some may question the validity of my referencing Wikipedia but I would be quick to point out that each article, although a summation of a topic, contains references to original articles. In preparing any of my postings, I don't just read the Wikipedia article, I look at the linked pages, the original works upon which Wikipedia is based.
Wikipedia: MMR vaccine controversy
The MMR vaccine controversy centered around the 1998 publication of a fraudulent research paper in the medical journal The Lancet that lent support to the subsequently discredited theory that colitis and autism spectrum disorders could be caused by the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The media has been heavily criticized for its naive reporting and for lending undue credibility to the architect of the fraud, Andrew Wakefield.
Wikipedia: Andrew Wakefield
Andrew Jeremy Wakefield (born 1957) is a British former surgeon and medical researcher, known for his fraudulent 1998 research paper in support of the now-discredited claim that there is a link between the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and the appearance of autism and bowel disease.
Wikipedia: Jenny McCarthy
Jennifer Ann "Jenny" McCarthy (born November 1, 1972) is an American model, actress, author, and activist. She began her career in 1993 as a nude model for Playboy magazine and was later named their Playmate of the Year. McCarthy then parlayed her Playboy fame into a television and film acting career. More recently, she has written books about parenting, and has become an activist promoting research into environmental causes and alternative medical treatments for autism. She has claimed that vaccines cause autism and that chelation therapy helped cure her son of autism. Both claims are controversial and unsupported by any medical evidence, and her son's autism diagnosis is disputed.
Wikipedia: Vaccine controversies
A vaccine controversy is a dispute over the morality, ethics, effectiveness, or safety of vaccinations. Medical and scientific evidence surrounding vaccinations demonstrate that the benefits of preventing suffering and death from infectious diseases far outweigh rare adverse effects of immunization. However, since vaccination began in the late 18th century, opponents have claimed that vaccines do not work, that they are or may be dangerous, that individuals should rely on personal hygiene instead, or that mandatory vaccinations violate individual rights or religious principles. These arguments have reduced vaccination rates in certain communities, resulting in outbreaks of preventable, and sometimes fatal, childhood illnesses.
The Washington Post – July 15/2013
Jenny McCarthy on The View — not The Medically Correct View, Just The View by Alexandra Petri
I realize it’s “The View,” not “The Correct View” or “The View That Is Actually Substantiated By Any Science Whatsoever.” There is no reason to assume that, just because someone is on your TV, that this person has opinions that are grounded in fact and that you should go about implementing in your life. In many cases, it’s the exact opposite. Usually, the presence of someone on television indicates little more than that this person is slightly louder than most people and would be unpleasant to sit next to on a long flight.
Slate – July 15/2013
The View Hires Notorious Anti-Vaxxer Jenny McCarthy by Phil Plait
Yet despite these facts McCarthy has gone everywhere and anywhere protesting vaccinations. And she’s done this while actually injecting herself with the single most toxic protein known to medical science. Seriously. And over the years as the anti-vaxxers get more of a voice, we’ve seen outbreaks of pertussis, measles, and more, putting people, especially infants, at risk of serious illness and even death.
That’s why giving McCarthy a large public forum to share her views is a terrible idea. I’ll note The View has more than 3 million viewers, and given the time slot, I suspect a lot of those folks watching are parents of young kids—precisely the demographic most prone to listen to anti-vaccine views.
Slate – Mar 3/2009
Why you should listen to celebrities by Phil Plait
What [Jenny McCarthy] says is so mind-numbingly mind numbing. Vaccines cause autism. She cured her son of autism. Her son is an Indigo child. And so on.
"I love Botox, I absolutely love it," she said. "I get it minimally, so I can still move my face. But I really do think it's a savior."
I see. So injecting kids with scientifically-proven medicine that can save their lives and the lives of countless others is bad because of a fantasy-driven belief that it causes autism, but injecting a lethal pathogen — in fact, the most lethal protein known — into your face to help ease the globally threatening scourge of crow's feet is just fine and dandy.
Jenny McCarthy Body Count
Number of Autism Diagnoses Scientifically Linked to Vaccinations = 0
God Will Save Me
There is a story told about a man who was stranded in his house during a flood. A boat came to rescued him while he was standing on his doorstep, surrounded by water. But he waived the rescuer off, saying "God will rescue me!"
The following day the water rose and another boat came to rescue the man now stuck on the upstairs balcony. He again refused help, shouting, "God will rescue me!"
Late the next day, he found himself sitting on the chimney, the waters swirling around him. A helicopter hovered overhead, a man shouting, "Let's help you!" But the man shouted back, "God will rescue me!"
As fate would have it, the water rose and the man drowned. He arrived in heaven in a not-so-good mood, complaining to Saint Peter, "I expected you to rescue me!"
"Frankly, I am surprised to see you here," Peter replied, "because we sent two boats and a helicopter to pick you up!"