For the benefit of the criminally-irresponsible Jenny McCarthy:

Her motives are doubtless sincere, but the crusade started by Jenny McCarthy in order to blame vaccines for her son’s alleged autism is just reaching ridiculous proportions (and I’m not referring to the article inexcusably writing ‘grew to a crescendo’, gah). 
The most recent culmination is a credulous and hasty endorsement from Oprah. Given Oprah’s massive appeal, this has potentially disastrous consequences – as Shirley Wu points out in her open letter to Oprah.
OK, so this is fairly old news in the blog community, but the fine people at Skepchick have just written an urgent Open Letter to Frightened Parents:, that is so important I’m going to reprint it here (if Skepchick want me to remove this, just send me a note to john AT johngregson DOT co DOT uk and I’ll happily oblige):

Dear Parents,

If you have not made the decision to vaccinate your child, I urge you to make that decision now. Immunity from painful, disfiguring, and sometimes even deadly diseases is not a gift you should withhold from your child. Your child is, undoubtedly, the greatest love of your life… a love so great that it was unfathomable until you experienced it. And I know that you want to and need to do everything in your power to protect him or her. Which is precisely why you’re hesitant to vaccinate.

I understand. As parents, we all understand. Vaccines have received almost nothing but bad press over the last few years. Even the good press seems to come with all kinds of asterisks and disclaimers. But let me remind you of something: the press is not concerned with accuracy, they are concerned with readership. Sensationalistic and scary stories grab readers’ attention. It’s why your evening news begins with murders, shots fired, child abductions and fatal car accidents. That’s not to say scary always means untrue, but it should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism… in fact, even the non-scary stuff needs to have an eyebrow raised to it.

I know you don’t think you can trust “Big Pharma”. I’m not going to pretend that medicine has never failed us as or that mistakes have never been made or even that risks are never taken in the interest of profit. Your lack of trust isn’t unjustified. But try to understand that Big Pharma is not a machine of evil men, single men, who were all bred from test tubes and never experienced love or family. “Big Pharma” is an industry, fueled by people who need medicine. And it’s run by people who need medicine. People with families – children, parents, husbands and wives. The investors and shareholders are parents, just like you and me. These are not people segregated from human interaction. They are not out to get you. They are not out to hurt you. It’s not a perfect system. It’s flawed in many ways, but it’s the system we have. And it does more good than harm every day.

When you hear people like Jenny McCarthy saying things like, “If you think about it, it’s all about greed”, ask yourself who she’s talking about. Thousands of people are involved in the approval and distribution of each and every drug. Every one of them stands to be hurt personally and professionally by the failures of those drugs. Yes, profits will be made, but unless/until we are willing to sacrifice the freedoms afforded to us by capitalism, businesses cannot run without profit… for better or worse.

It’s scary to trust a seemingly faceless billion-dollar industry with the health and well-being of your child. You’ve met children with autism. You’ve met their parents. Yet you’ve never met a single person who develops, researches or approves drugs.

It’s easy to sympathize with the anti-vaccine movement when you see these children and you don’t want to make the same mistakes that their parents made. You never want your child to experience that hell. You want your child to smile and say “Mama” and “Daddy”.

The thing is, as convincing as these parents are, and as sincere as they are, their blame is misplaced. It’s hard to look at a friend or relative –  someone you care about deeply, hurting and struggling and knowing how their child was injured – and tell them that perhaps they are making unfounded accusations, that maybe their pain is causing them to place blame where there might not be any. Perhaps they want answers so badly that they’re willing to accept the answers that are given, instead of being able to accept that there may not be any answers at all right now.

It’s all understandable. Having an answer, having a culprit, having someone to direct your rage at, someone to blame, someone to rally against, to point your finger at and say, “How dare you hurt my child!” It feels more right than sitting back, and having to wrap your mind around the fact that this might just be the way your child is. Accepting that there is no answer feels like accepting defeat. There is a hopelessness and helplessness about it. No doubt.

But the fact is that, as much as we all want a better more ethical health care industry for our families, they may not be to blame on this one. And it’s not that researchers haven’t tried to nail the pharmaceutical industry on the vaccine issue. Indeed, they have tried. But when they investigate the claims of the dangers of vaccines, the results are clear: vaccines do not cause autism and getting vaccinated is far safer than not.

I’m sure there’s nothing I can say to defend “Big Pharma” and the government that will convince you to change your mind. But let me make one personal plea to you.

You may think that your decision not to vaccinate is a personal one. That it’s not my business. That it’s between you and your family members because you are the ones affected by the decision and no one else is.

But that’s not the case.

I’ve heard parents argue that the risk of polio is only 1 in 1500, while autism risk is 1 in 150. That’s a scary statistic. But understand that the only reason the risk of polio is so low is because of vaccines. Each time a person with a healthy immune system chooses not to get vaccinated, it chips away at that number. Each unvaccinated person puts more people at risk.

When you make the decision not to vaccinate, or even just to hold off for a while, you’re not just making that decision for your children and your family. You are making that decision for all of us. Your child’s vaccines don’t just protect them from disease, they protect everyone around them by preventing the spread of disease.

By not vaccinating, you affect everyone you come into contact with. You affect the pregnant woman in line behind you at the grocery store. You affect your elderly relatives. You affect people with HIV and AIDS. You affect people with cancer. You affect newborn babies. You affect the people who cannot receive vaccines. You affect the children whose parents have chosen not to vaccinate them. You affect yourself. You affect your neighbors. You affect every single person you meet every time you meet them and all the people they meet after you. That’s not an exaggeration.

While something like measles may seem like nothing more than an unpleasant childhood illness to your otherwise healthy child, it can be a death sentence for a child with a compromised immune system. What may cost your child a few days off from school, could cost a little girl with leukemia her life. Maybe you don’t know anyone with leukemia, but once that disease is out there, spreading, there’s nothing you personally can do to stop it.

But you can stop it now. You can do your part to make sure these diseases don’t spread. All you have to do is vaccinate. It saves lives.

And you don’t know what fate holds for your children. One day, one of your own children could be one of those with a compromised immune system. If that were to happen, your child’s life could be at the mercy of herd immunity, a protection that is vanishing with this current vaccination hysteria.

I know you want to do the best thing for your child. As a parent, I understand your fear.

When it came time for my son to get his 18 month shots, I suddenly found myself doubting. I am 100% pro vaccination, but I wondered what would happen if I were wrong. And that question kept me up, sickened at the thought that I might hurt my son. But I would not let myself be overcome by fear. The rational part of me packed him up, put him in the car, and drove him to that appointment to get him his MMR. And I don’t regret that decision. And today, three and a half months later, he is still smiling, hugging me and calling me Mama. But even if he weren’t, I would be glad I vaccinated him.

If the statistic that 1 in 150 children scares you, and you still believe that vaccines can be linked to autism, please think of it this way – even if 1 in every 150 children who gets vaccinated becomes autistic, that risk is only 0.667%. That means that 99.333% of the time, autism does not happen. Research has repeatedly debunked the link between vaccines and autism, but even if that research is wrong, the risk is two thirds of a percent.

That’s a risk worth taking.

Please, call your pediatrician or family doctor today and get your child an appointment to be immunized. The world is counting on you.

Sincerely,

Elyse Anders

Remember, folks, celebrities have no Hippocratic Corpus. Jenny McCarthy didn’t sign a celebrity contract with “Above all, do no harm” on it.

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1 Comment

Filed under science, skepticism

One response to “For the benefit of the criminally-irresponsible Jenny McCarthy:

  1. Chrisa

    Nice.

    Sure, she “cured” her son’s autism. He wasn’t autistic to begin with, if his symptoms are gone or lessened.

    Misdiagnosis is the real issue.

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