Jenny McCarthy is officially joining The View. “Do I have opinions?” one reporter asked. Yup.
My concerns center around Jenny McCarthy’s past willingness to trade-in her experience for expertise. That is, she widely shared her theories and anecdotes about her son’s experience with learning challenges and falsely placed blame on vaccines for his then-diagnosed autism. I will not discount her private experience.
What I discount is her decision to leverage a modeling/pornography career to message about health. She aligned herself with pseudoscience. She mistook “mommy instinct” for fact. She partnered with the debunked Andrew Wakefield and has been an ardent spokesperson for Generation Rescue. She directed families away from life-saving vaccines and pointed them towards costly and unproven treatments like chelation for learning and behavioral challenges. In sum, she created fear.
She created myths around “greening” vaccines, a concept that lives on today and make very little sense.
Her myth (stating the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism) has potentially increased disease burden. Outbreaks of measles in Europe have overwhelmed France and Wales in the past few years and under-vaccinated communities persist here in the US. In part, this is because of Jenny’s megaphone.
The auspicious truth is when Andrew Wakefield was debunked her fervor slowed. I hear less about Jenny McCarthy in the exam room these days. She’s retreated from the vaccine discussion. Trouble is, I still hear about the myth she methodically created. Some families remain scared and confused about true benefits/risks when it comes to life-saving vaccines. I’m angry she’s made so many parents falter.
As a pediatrician, I know her theories have caused confusion, fear, and harm for parents and their children here and across our borders. Her distribution has caused researchers to pause, re-directing their efforts to disprove what we already knew rather than move our understanding forward. There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. In fact, a 2011 Institute of medicine report reviewed over 1000 research articles about vaccine safety concluding, “ Overall, the committee concludes that few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines.”
In the medical community, we’ll work to undo myths around vaccine safety for the rest of our lives in part because Ms McCarthy used her pulpit to mislead the public about vaccine science. Lacking medical training and an understanding of infectious disease, she has changed the landscape of the United States medical practice. That’s the power of the word.
The View is entertainment, of course, but the public has a very difficult time deciphering the lines between science education, information, news, and entertainment.
There’s no news release about proposed topics of discussion for The View once Ms McCarthy joins. Her microphone will once again extend and we can only hope she steers clear of discussions about medicine. Perhaps they will stick to her true expertise. If they venture into vaccine science, I’d be delighted to join in and have plenty of ideas who can join us at the table.
Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician who blogs at Seattle Mama Doc.