Jenny McCarthy: Still an Anti-Vaccine Activist

Jenny McCarthy is anti-vaccine

Anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy has taken her own twisted self-delusions to an entirely new level. She has spent years on promoting demonstrably dangerous myths about how vaccines supposedly contain dangerous toxins that cause autism. She has repeatedly appeared on popular TV-shows to spread misinformation about the current vaccine schedule. She has deployed nearly every single gambit in the anti-vaccine play-book. In a move of enormous audacity, McCarthy wrote a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times trying to whitewash her deeply tainted anti-vaccine history. She now claims that she is not anti-vaccine at all and that the media has wrongly trusted “blatantly inaccurate” blog posts. In reality, her words betray her even in the midsts of writing her defense as she continues to parrot classic anti-vaccine distortions.

I am not “anti-vaccine.” This is not a change in my stance nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted. For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, “pro-vaccine” and for years I have been wrongly branded as “anti-vaccine.”

If McCarthy is pro-vaccine, then why has she promoted dangerously false anti-vaccine tropes, including the notion that the MMR vaccine cause autism, that the preservative thimerosal cause autism and that multiple vaccines overwhelm the immune system cause autoimmune disease? It is right there, in the transcript of the interview she gave for the PBS documentary The Vaccine War. If she talks like an anti-vaccine activists and distort like an anti-vaccine activists, then she is an anti-vaccine activist. No matter what after-the-fact rationalizations she puts forward.

Let us see how McCarthy betrays herself in the very article she claims to not be anti-vaccine.

It does not take long. She cannot keep herself from disseminating her anti-vaccine sentiments in the very first sentence after the introductory paragraph:

My beautiful son, Evan, inspired this mother to question the “one size fits all” philosophy of the recommended vaccine schedule.

Right off the bat, McCarthy alludes to the “too many, too soon” gambit. Although the number of vaccines have increased, the total number of immunological challenges (called antigens) have actually decreased over time due to improvements in recombinant DNA technology.

She also seems to think that the mainstream vaccine schedule is a “philosophy”. In reality, it is a well-tested schedule on diverse populations. The FDA forces vaccine manufacturers to demonstrate that any new vaccine does not interfere with vaccines already on the schedule by performing concomitant use studies. Alternative vaccine schedules, on the other hand, are not well-tested and delaying important vaccines leaves children unprotected for a much longer time.

I embarked on this quest not only for myself and my family, but for countless parents who shared my desire for knowledge that could lead to options and alternate schedules, but never to eliminate the vaccines.

This is a clear case of after-the-fact rationalization. Instead of admitting that she bought into anti-vaccine fear-mongering, anecdotes and superstitious thinking about correlations, McCarthy tries to portray herself as a disinterested public servant whose only goal was to stand up for parents.

Blatantly inaccurate blog posts about my position have been accepted as truth by the public at large as well as media outlets (legitimate and otherwise), who have taken those false stories and repeatedly turned them into headlines

What are these alleged blatant inaccuracies about her position? Don’t say that they falsely labeled her “anti-vaccine”, because she has demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that she is, in fact, an anti-vaccine advocate.

You won’t believe what she says next:

What happened to critical thinking?

“What happened to critical thinking?” Really? That is her question? Well, here is the answer: critical thinking died when McCarthy claimed her “mommy-instinct”, anecdotes and time spent at the “university of Google” rivaled decades of medical training, accumulated clinical experience, dozens of scientific studies. For her, critical thinking has stayed dead.

What happened to asking questions because every child is different?

Medical research take individual variation into consideration by using large sample sizes and diverse study populations. This is not always done perfectly, but every competent research design takes individual variability into account. This would have been easy for McCarthy to learn, if she had made the effort.

For my child, I asked for a schedule that would allow one shot per visit instead of the multiple shots they were and still are giving infants.

Then she would have gotten a suboptimal schedule that was not well-tested and would have delayed protection.

I am passionate about important conversations on how we can improve health care for our children and generations to come.

Another vacuous distortion. If she had the slightest interest in improving health care for children, she would have stopped spreading anti-vaccine misinformation long ago.

This is an extremely important discussion and I am dumbfounded that these conversations are discounted and negated because the answers are not black or white.

Just because two positions are expressed with the same level of confidence does not mean that the truth is in the middle. Sometimes, one side is simply wrong. That is the side of McCarthy and her anti-vaccine allies. It is also curious that she laments black-and-white thinking when she also claims that vaccines are full of alleged toxins. Which is another irony considering the fact that she promotes botox injections and e-cigarettes.

Nuance is good for questions where there are legitimate scientific reasons to question mainstream scientific and medical positions. When the evidence for mainstream science is so overwhelming, requests for “nuance”, “critical thinking” and “just asking questions” is usually a denialism.

Again I ask, what happened to critical thinking?

I suspect many proponents of science-based medicine has been asking themselves that for many years.

Next, she quotes herself out of context:

This is what I have said:

“People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines,” I told Time Magazine science editor Jeffrey Kluger in 2009. “Please understand that we are not an anti-vaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.”

Yet she forgets to quote the last sentence of her reply to that particular question from her interlocutor. Let us go back to the original interview:

[Kluger] And yet in many cases, vaccines have effectively eliminated diseases. Measles is among the top five killers in the world of children under 5 years old, yet it kills virtually no one in the U.S. thanks to vaccines.

[McCarthy] People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines. Please understand that we are not an antivaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins. 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 measles.

In other words, her antipathy towards vaccines is so strong that she would rather have her son get the measles.

I believe in the importance of a vaccine program and I believe parents have the right to choose one poke per visit.

McCarthy believes that parents have the right to experiment on their children with an untested, alternative vaccine schedule that delays protection. This is what she believes. There is no reason to sugarcoat it.

I’ve never told anyone to not vaccinate.

This is a pretty ignorant statement, even for McCarthy. Of course her anti-vaccine activism has convinced people not to vaccinate. She is a celebrity and many people listen to celebrities, believe their claims and buys into their worldviews. She is not innocent. Not one bit.

Should a child with the flu receive six vaccines in one doctor visit?

“Moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever” is a well-known precaution for all vaccines given to children. If doctors did not take the necessary precautions, it is the fault of the individual doctor and not the vaccines themselves.

Anti-vaccine activists often try to inflate the number of vaccines given by conflating the number of injections with the number of vaccines. So, for instance, many anti-vaccine proponents consider an injection with MMR to constitute 3 vaccines, and three doses of MMR over time is therefore counted as nine vaccines. When dealing with this anti-vaccine trope, always ask for specifics.

Should a child with a compromised immune system be treated the same way as a robust, healthy child? Shouldn’t a child with a family history of vaccine reactions have a different plan? Or at least the right to ask questions?

Again, attenuated vaccines have well-defined contraindications and precautions when it comes to immunocompromised children or previous adverse reactions. Medical doctors are aware about this issue and they do ask questions. McCarthy isn’t bringing anything new to the table.

I will continue to say what I have always said: “One size does not fit all.”

And we will continue to explain basic immunology to anti-vaccine activists.

God help us all if gray is no longer an option.

McCarthy is not a victim. McCarthy is not being unfairly oppressed by the medical establishment. She promotes harmful myths about vaccines. She is anti-vaccine. She is anti-science. She is a dangerous perpetrator and her actions are a threat to the health and lives of children.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

6 thoughts on “Jenny McCarthy: Still an Anti-Vaccine Activist

  • April 14, 2014 at 16:46
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    Emil Karlsson,

    My Mom is convinced that a chemical in certain vaccines causes autism. She blames my own Autism on it. She said once that she wished she hadn’t been so quick to vaccinate me, until they removed the chemical. She only stopped complaining when it was pointed out to her, that had she not done so, I might not be alive today.

  • April 14, 2014 at 19:44
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    I hope that Jenny is making this statement to distance herself from dangerous misinformation. But whether she is trying to clarify her position or trying to backpedal, her recent column still isn’t adequate. And continues to promote misinformation. Nurses Who Vaccinate also wrote an open letter to Ms. McCarthy in response to her column post and in it refute the misconception that vaccines are a ‘one size fits all’ as well as encourages her to speak to public health professionals to address her vaccine concerns.
    You can read the letter written by a nurse to Jenny here- http://nurseswhovaccinate.blogspot.com/2014/04/dear-jenny-mccarthy.html

  • April 15, 2014 at 03:28
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    Th3ere does seem to have been an increase in autism in recent years. People are clamoring for answers.

    • April 15, 2014 at 20:20
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      No, it is probably only an increase in diagnoses due to broadening of diagnostic criteria and more public and medical awareness.

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