Tech + Health

04.16.14

Jenny McCarthy Says She’s Never Been Anti-Vaccine. Yeah, Right.

After years of alignment with anti-vaxxers, Jenny McCarthy says she’s not anti-vaccine—she’s pro ‘one poke per visit.’

So close, Jenny McCarthy. So close. Well… not really. But I’m trying to adopt the same conciliatory tone that McCarthy affects in a recent Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, in which she claims that she was never really “anti-vaccine” and that believing otherwise is just a big misunderstanding.

“For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, ‘pro-vaccine’ and for years I have been wrongly branded as ‘anti-vaccine,’” she writes.

Mercy me! How ever could we have come to such a misguided conclusion?

Unfortunately for McCarthy’s new shtick of ersatz innocence, it took a whopping 20 seconds on Google for me to find an interview she did with Larry King back in 2008 in which she said quite emphatically that “vaccines play the largest role right now [in causing autism] and something needs to be done,” later telling a doctor who dared suggest that vaccines were good for families that it was “bullshit.”

A minute later I stumbled on an article in Time that quotes her saying, “If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f___ing [their redaction] measles.”

Call me crazy, but that sounds pretty damn anti-vaccine to me, what with her saying outright that the vaccine that prevents measles causes autism, even though (for the millionth time) it does not. Sadly, she got at least part of her wish, since even without having to stand in line people are getting measles again. (No drop in autism, though.)

But where McCarthy really tips her “pro-vaccine but really still anti-vaccine” hand is when she says, “I believe in the importance of a vaccine program and I believe parents have the right to choose one poke per visit.”

Ah, yes. The “alternate vaccine schedule,” touted by Oprah-approved pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears. It allows parents who fear that too many vaccines at once might “overwhelm” a child’s immune system (possibly because, I dunno, maybe they heard some celebrity saying so on a late-night talk show?) and do them harm to spread them out over an indefinite period of time. This despite there being no evidence that multiple vaccines are in any way dangerous.

Spreading out vaccines one by one merely prolongs by a span of weeks or months the time that small children are vulnerable to these illnesses.

The standard vaccine schedule begins when babies are 2 months old, continuing at two-month intervals for a few more visits and tapering off a bit until babies are 15 months old or so. There is a set of booster vaccines at about kindergarten age, with a little bit of variation from practice to practice. The reason I, like the overwhelming majority of pediatricians and family practitioners, vaccinate children on this schedule is to protect them as quickly as I can against as many preventable diseases as I can.

Spreading out vaccines one by one merely prolongs by a span of weeks or months the time that small children are vulnerable to these illnesses. It says, in essence, that parents cherry-pick which sickness they’d like their child to remain at risk of catching. Pertussis? Invasive H. flu? Both of them are still out there, and both can kill infants. Why on Earth would you want your child to be at risk for these and several other diseases for a minute longer than necessary?

The only reason to make this choice is because you have been convinced that doing so is somehow safer. It is not, and any implied benefit to doing so is built on no evidence. In advocating for it, McCarthy is suggesting a solution to a problem that does not exist and pretending to allay a fear that she has helped create. It’s understandable that, with 2014 on track to break last year’s record number of measles cases, she’d want to walk back her blithe comments about that illness, but it’s too late.

She’s reaping the whirlwind of her own blinkered anti-vaccine rhetoric, and her double-talk now is just whistling Dixie.