Jenny McCarthy is an actress via a Playboy photo spread. We have common southside Chicago roots, but I went to the “other” high school, while she took off her h.s. sweater and revealed all. Boob might be the operative word for Jenny for many reasons! She ignores science and plays to the crowd. Now she’s part of the popular television show, THE VIEW, watched by many mothers. Will she continue to air her non-science views and hurt the spread of herd immunity?
Briefly: Jenny has a son who she claimed became autistic after receiving his MMR vaccine. She became a supporter of Dr. Andrew Wakefield who published a research article in the British journal Lancet purporting a connection between the vaccine and autism. His results have never been replicated and investigation revealed his research was funded by lawyers eager to sue vaccine manufacturers. Subsequently the British General Medical Council’s review board found Wakefield’s research devoid of scientific merit. He was barred from practicing medicine and his article retracted. But McCarthy continues to write books supporting his ideas, to claim that her son was cured using chelation (there is no definitive information to prove the child was autistic and then was cured) and to run an organization, Generation Rescue, that spreads her non-scientific views that blame vaccines for the spread of autism.
What Does the Media Say?
A writer on salon.com stated: “It’s high time the woman who once said that ‘I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe’ took a step back and reconsidered the merits of that increasingly crackpot stance. And it’s time she acknowledged that clinging to research that’s been deemed patently fraudulent does not make one a ‘mother warrior.’ It makes her a menace.” It also makes her selfish. Why?
Let’s Talk About Immunocompromised Folks
My husband has a chronic illness that compromises his immune system. If he is exposed to a virus, like the flu, he could become very ill. He’s not alone. There are approximately 10 million people in the US like him (3.6 percent of the population) and the number is probably an underestimate as it only includes people with HIV/AIDS, organ transplant recipients, and cancer patients. There’s also a large population of people taking immunosuppressive drugs for disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. That pumps up the number and emphasizes the importance of vaccinations that create herd immunity, thus protecting the immunocompromised.
Vaccinations and Herd Immunity
Just looking at the chart above reveals what happens within a community, a school, a neighborhood, on an airplane–when most people are vaccinated for the flu or most school children have received their MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) or their DTaP to protect from whooping cough (pertussis.) McCarthy’s non-science probably contributed to the spread of pertussis in California. “When the number of people vaccinated drops below 95 percent, a community loses herd immunity to highly contagious germs like pertussis, and babies and other unvaccinated people can get sick. In 2010, (only) 91 percent of kindergarteners were up to date on their shots in California.”
Why Some Parents Dig in and Refuse Vaccinations
Pediatric intensive care doc, Christopher Johnson, in his post A Strategy to Approach Patients Who Don’t Believe in Vaccines, clearly presents the problems doctors are presented with because of the large numbers of parents who have bought into the “vaccines cause autism” myth. He cites research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler on what they call the “backfire effect.” Johnson writes:”…the more a piece of information lowers self-worth, the less likely it is to have the desired impact…when people are presented with corrective information that runs counter to their ideology, those who most strongly identify with the ideology will intensify their incorrect beliefs.”
This research made Johnson realize that pressing his vaccine information with parents who are refusing, only creates a “digging in” effect. The argument escalates. This was a bad strategy and would only alienate the parents who he wished to have as collaborators in the care of their child. So he began to bring up the concept of relative risk. He writes:
Non-physicians don’t think about risk in the same way physicians do. Parents want no risk; physicians would like that, too, but realize there is no such thing… it helps to think of specifics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the overall risk for a serious side effect from two common vaccines, DaPT and MMR, is about 1 in a million at worst, more likely about 1 in 10 million. By comparison, the risk of being hit by lightning is, on average, about 1 in 700,000 per year, yielding a lifetime risk (if you live to be 80) of 1 in 3,000. Over the last 20 years on average around 50 people die each year from being hit by lightning.
If parents scoffed at that statistic, Johnson went on to car accidents. Yes, car seats do protect children, but the risk of death is still significant: anyone’s average lifetime risk of dying in a car accident is 1-2%, and car accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 2-14. Johnson would then list other everyday activities that contained risk–not to scare parents but to put vaccine risk in a logical perspective. He ended his post saying: And, if you’re a parent skeptical about vaccines, I hope I’ve given you a different slant on the issue.
Johnson’s approach is excellent and I hope convincing. The more parents opting to vaccinate their children, the safer the rest of society will be–protected by herd immunity. I sympathize with McCarthy wanting to help her child. But now that her so called “science” has been disproved, she could use her celebrity to help many more people by acknowledging her mistake and urging mothers and fathers to vaccinate their children.
A Potent Reminder!
Just remember the polio scourge of the 1950s–once the Salk vaccine became available children were inoculated and the disease almost wiped out in the U.S. Wake up Jenny McCarthy and stop being selfish.
Another update: The Return of Childhood Diseases THE WEEK read it here.
A Surge in Preventable Illnesses from LA TIME read it here
Thanks to Google Images
Fall 2014 Click here Letters to the Editor to read letters in response to the news that too many families in Southern California are opting out of vaccinating their children.