There’s been a lot in the news recently about the decision to hire Jenny McCarthy to replace Elizabeth Hasselback on “The View”. I cant say that I’m particularly sad to see Hasselback go, as I was never a fan of her conservative “values” but the hiring of Jenny McCarthy – as has been pointed out by many – amounts to a public health nightmare.
For those of you who don’t know, McCarthy is a staunch believer that vaccines caused her son to have autism. Furthermore, she is an outspoken advocate for not vaccinating children and both encourages and supports parents who choose not to do so. McCarthy is a strong supporter of UK physician Andrew Wakefield, who published a study in 1998 showing that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine causes autism. That very study has been discredited as a fraud, and follow up studies have disproved Wakefield’s claim. Despite evidence to the contrary, McCarthy still contends that her son became autistic due to vaccines. It’s also not clear if her son was ever autistic to begin with, but McCarthy also claims to have cured him through special diets.
Here’s the thing. It’s perfectly fine for Jenny McCarthy to have some nut-job opinion about vaccines causing autism – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The problem here is that people – unfortunately – listen to celebrities. Hiring McCarthy to the “The View” gives her a platform to spread her misinformation to the general public, much like it gave Hasselback a platform to openly speak about her conservative viewpoints and her longing for the return of the Bush-era. Love her or hate her, Hasselback represented one of the remaining conservative voices on daytime television, but at least she didn’t pretend to be a doctor or scientist.
The truth is that vaccines save lives. In fact, vaccines will remain one of the greatest scientific and medical revolutions the world has ever seen, saving the lives of countless children and adults and reducing the burden of disease and disability. The number of children in the United States who get sick from polio, diphtheria, measles, chicken pox, tetanus, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable illnesses is almost negligible. Smallpox has been eradicated worldwide and tremendous public health efforts are underway to eradicate the last remaining hot zones for polio. We sometimes forget these diseases even exists, and it’s getting so that the latest generation of doctors haven’t even seen some of these illness, illnesses that used to be common and sometimes kill. One only need to recall Franklin D. Roosevelt to know how disabling these diseases can be even when they don’t kill. Furthermore, vaccines not only prevent those who receive it from getting sick, but society in general benefits from what is known as “herd immunity” – the idea that once enough people in a population are vaccinated, those who do not develop immunity will also be protected, therefore protecting the larger population as a whole.
Allowing McCarthy to spread her anti-vaccine message on a heavily watched daytime show targeted to mothers is dangerous to the health of our nation’s children. James Poniewozik of TIME probably said it best. He noted in his blog, “For a show even remotely about news–and a career newswoman like Walters–to legitimize McCarthy’s dangerous anti-science because she will probably get crazy attention and ratings is irresponsible and shameful. Because persuading parents that needed vaccines cause autism isn’t just a zany, oh-no-she-didn’t opinion. It’s wrong … And the fear of vaccines doesn’t just potentially harm the children whose parents forego vaccination, but other kids as well, by threatening the ‘herd immunity’ that we rely on to protect the larger population from disease.”