The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for March 31st, 2009

Jenny McCarthy: When Ignorance Kills

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2009

When it comes to woo & pseudoscientific nonsense, there are times when it is just an annoyance. And then there are times when such ignorance can literally kill. Such is the case with the anti-vaccination movement (AVM).

The anti-vaxxers have found a celebrity spokesperson in Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy playmate and squeeze of actor Jim Carrey. Jenny’s son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism and she has since blamed his being vaccinated as the cause of his autism. Never mind that there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or the other horrible things espoused by the AVM, Jenny continues her anti-vax crusade, appearing on talk shows and in other venues spouting her nonsense.

**Aside: Keep a watchful eye out for an organization which McCarthy promotes – Generation Rescue – because this group is essentially a front for the AVM and other dangerous medical woo-woo.

Well, this is really bad, because the ignorance that Jenny McCarthy and the AVM spreads can be lethal. As an illustration of this fact, there is a new website online called Jenny McCarthy Body Count.

jenny mccarthy

While this site does not blame her directly for the deaths accounted for there, it does state (and I think correctly) that her actions as the public face of the AVM has contributed to the hysteria against vaccinations and hence the spread of diseases which would otherwise be kept in check.

As the website states on its front page…

In June 2007 Jenny McCarthy began promoting anti-vaccination rhetoric. Because of her celebrity status she has appeared on several television shows and has published multiple books advising parents not to vaccinate their children. This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of vaccine preventable illnesses as well as an increase in the number of vaccine preventable deaths.

Jenny McCarthy has a body count attached to her name. This website will publish the total number of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths that have happened since June 2007 when she began publicly speaking out against vaccines.

Is Jenny McCarthy directly responsible for every vaccine preventable illness and every vaccine preventable death listed here? No. However, as the unofficial spokesperson for the United States anti-vaccination movement she may be indirectly responsible for at least some of these illnesses and deaths and even one vaccine preventable illness or vaccine preventable death is too many.

Since June of 2007 and as of this writing, the website documents the following numbers – verified through the Centers for Disease Control

Number of Preventable Cases: 720
Number of Preventable Deaths: 142

Fortunately, not everyone in Hollywood is as ignorant & dangerous as Jenny McCarthy in their promotion of woo – there are those who are willing to take her and her AVM ilk head on and call them out on their deadly nonsense. I’m speaking specifically of actress Amanda Peet, who in an article last year publicly took the AVM to task…

Peet’s analytical urges are comical when she’s talking about kids’ gear, but not when she’s discussing a subject she feels is among today’s most pressing public-health issues: infant vaccinations. “As soon as I was pregnant, the neuroses kicked in,” says Peet, 36, who is married to screenwriter David Benioff. She began calling her older sister’s husband, a Philadelphia pediatrician, “every five minutes” with all kinds of questions, especially about shots. “I asked him, ‘Why are all of these necessary? Why are some people staggering them?’?” Eventually her brother-in-law arranged a series of phone calls between Peet and his own mentor, Paul Offit, M.D., who is chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and a board member of Every Child by Two, a pro-vaccine organization cofounded in 1991 by former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

“Once we had spoken, I was shocked at the amount of misinformation floating around, particularly in Hollywood,” says Peet, who quickly boned up on the hot-button controversies surrounding the topic, including the unproven link between certain vaccines and autism; the safety of preservatives like mercury-based thimerosal; and the fear that the relatively high number of shots kids receive today can overwhelm young immune systems. Her conclusion? Well, not only is Frankie up-to-date on her vaccines (with no staggering), but her mom will soon appear in public-service announcements for Every Child by Two. “I buy 99 percent organic food for Frankie, and I don’t like to give her medicine or put sunscreen on her,” says Peet. “But now that I’ve done my research, vaccines do not concern me.” What does concern her is the growing number of unvaccinated children who are benefiting from the “shield” created by the inoculated—we are protected from viruses only if everyone, or most everyone, is immunized: “Frankly, I feel that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are parasites.”

Incidentally, here are two great websites out there on this whole vaccination issue – one is called Stop Jenny McCarthy, and it has more info about the AVM & autism specifically, and the other is Every Child by Two, a pro-vaccination group which Amanda Peet supports and promotes. If you are at all interested in getting more informed about the AVM and how to tackle its bogus & dangerous woo, I suggest you check them out.

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