I was a teenager in the ’90’s, so I watched my fair share of the dating show Singled Out. After his popular resurgence, it’s still difficult for me to reconcile today’s geek-glorifying Chris Hardwick with the guy who snidely paired up enthusiastic youngsters on the basis of individual body part shapes nearly two decades ago.
Through his Nerdist media empire, Chris has eschewed his popular sensibilities and now advises us on all things dork. Jenny McCarthy used to stand behind him, snort and pick her nose on camera. Now thousands of parents take suspect medical suggestions concerning their children from her. Both have expanded their spheres of influence to unexpected areas, but while the worst the one will do is inflame yet another messageboard slapfight, the other’s inexplicable clout carries devastating and deadly consequences.
From MTV to Activism
Jenny’s been in the headlines recently for being named a co-host of ABC’s mega-popular, female hosted and oriented daytime talk show “The View.” While she doesn’t start the gig until September, her selection, announced by program developer and legendary television journalist Barbara Walters, has already been met with a critical backlash due to some of the former Playboy Playmate’s own “views.”
I guess the glasses make her smarter?
McCarthy revealed to the world in 2007 that her son had been diagnosed with autism two years prior. Autism is a neurologic disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and restricted behavior, the causes of which are unclear, although it is generally agreed there is a strong genetic component. The condition is usually diagnosed before a child reaches 3 years old, and the rate of such diagnoses has risen dramatically over the past 30 years, at least partially due to an expanded definition and the inclusion of more “borderline” cases under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism can be extraordinarily difficult for parents to understand and deal with (McCarthy even points out that their child’s condition may have contributed to the split with her husband, comedic actor Jim Carrey). After the diagnosis, many are left to naturally wonder why this had happened and how it could have been prevented. Jenny decided that the usual suite of childhood vaccinations were to blame for the autism onset, and has been preaching non-vaccination, with differing amounts of success, ever since. Is there any substance to this idea? Children are vaccinated at a young age and autism symptoms do begin to present themselves before the toddler stage, but correlation does not always mean causation.
Nothing But the Truth
Here are the facts. The modern doubts over vaccine safety began in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield published a paper in Britain’s The Lancet that claimed to show a link between the common MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) inoculation and the occurrence of autism. In response to the concern, far-reaching epidemiologic studies were performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Sciences, and the UK National Health Service. All of them were unable to reproduce the outcome and concluded that a link between vaccinations and autism did not exist.
Exposing Andrew Wakefield in London’s The Sunday Times
Wakefield’s paper was officially retracted by The Lancet in 2010 after a decade of discovering his conflicts of interest, data manipulation and outright fraud. That same year, an investigation by the UK’s General Medical Council barred Wakefield from continuing to practice medicine as the body labeled him (on the record) as dishonest, irresponsible and callous. Check out the whole story on Brian Deer’s website.
A year after Wakefield’s study was initially published, the use of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative often blamed by anti-vaxxers as a supposed cause of autism, was phased out of childhood vaccines and now is only utilized in a few flu shots and other immunizations not recommended for young children. Despite this, the rate of autism diagnosis has not decreased over the subsequent 14 years.
Fight Fire with Fire
Rock-solid refutations notwithstanding, many parents in the United States and especially in England refuse to vaccinate their children, a situation that has led to unnecessary measles outbreaks on both sides of the pond. In the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, Dr. Dennis Flaherty called the vaccine/autism connection “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years.” What can finally point people toward the proper evidence so they ignore the trumped-up nonsense? More celebrities, of course!
Actress Amanda Peet (star of the overlooked gem Saving Silverman) became a vaccination advocate in 2007, and later gained personal experience on the consequences of non-inoculation when her infant daughter came down with pertussis (AKA “whooping cough,” a completely preventable disease) before her vaccine schedule had completed.
Think you can take her, Jenny?
Peet’s voice was joined last month by that of the slayer herself, when Sarah Michelle Gellar added her expertise in putting a stake through the heart of anti-science. While Peet concentrates her efforts overseas, Gellar fights the good fight here at home, where reported pertussis cases are at their highest in 50 years. I’m not sure if these three ever run into each other at parties, but I’d like to read that article in the National Enquirer.
What about her?!
Fight Fire with Water
While heeding celebrity endorsements might be okay for deciding on a pair of sneakers, when it comes to our children’s health, it’s probably better to take the actual research to heart. That’s kind of why science started up in the first place; to distill the facts without arguments from “authority” (insert massive eyeroll emoticon here).
You might think that Jenny McCarthy should be able to say whatever she wants on a program called “The View,” but while everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no one is entitled to their own reality. The facts speak for themselves. And refusal to vaccinate isn’t just a “personal decision,” as more unprotected children lower a population’s so-called herd immunity, making it easier for both non-vaccinated and even vaccinated individuals to contract diseases. It’s a danger to all of us.
You wouldn’t trust an MD’s opinion on who wore it best on the red carpet, so don’t go looking to tinseltown for important medical advice.