Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jenny McCarthy, Vaccines and Autism

If you're not the parent of a small child, don't watch daytime television, or work in a bookstore, then you may fondly remember Jenny McCarthy as a goofy, funny blond Playboy Playmate and MTV personality who in the mid-90's seemed poised to become the next Lucille Ball, if you bought into the hype. Later she married Jim Carey, and is now known as the author of several books on motherhood, due to the arrival of her son Evan.

Well, Evan is autistic, and Jenny blames vaccines. She's written about it, spoken out about it on any talk show that will let her (recently on Oprah) and started her own non-profit organization, Generation Rescue, dedicated to curing and preventing autism, and speaking out against vaccinations. A quick look at her site reveals stories about people seemingly hurt by vaccinations, tips on reversing autism, and links to buy Jenny's latest books. The site is loaded with ads for products with questionable benefits for autistic children, like hyperbaric chambers, gluten free cookies, and vitamin supplements.

The facts, unfortunately, are not on Jenny's side. Vaccines are safe. How safe? So safe the the Center for Disease Control can't put a number on it. So safe that not one actual scientific study has found any link between autism and vaccines. (There have been at least ten studies.) This month both Skeptic ("Vaccines and Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy" by Harriet Hall, M.D., Vol 15 #2 2009) and Wired ("An Epidemic of Fear" by Amy Wallace, Nov. 2009) ran articles about the so-called vaccination controversy, both citing reliable data on the safety and efficacy of vaccines. They also reported on the dangers of not vaccinating your children.

The fact is, when children go un-vaccinated, they tend to die more often. Check out Jenny McCarthy Body Count.com where you can monitor exactly how many people became ill or died as a result of not being vaccinated since Jenny McCarthy started her campaign. The site isn't willing to lay the deaths of 265 people (and rising) directly at her feet, but if she claims that her organization is having an impact, then she must be held at least partially responsible for some of these deaths. (If she's 1% responsible, then two people have died because of her.)

This isn't just me playing statistical games. Jenny has said that she doesn't care if people die from diseases that would have been prevented with vaccines. Check out this quote, from Time Magazine, April 2009 (I've taken the liberty of filling in the swear words where Time wouldn't.):

I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism.

I don't want to be crass, and suggest that she's only doing this for the money and the fame. Truth be told, I think that if she wasn't doing the advocacy thing she'd be making more money doing TV and movies. I think she really believes her own bullshit. I think she came to some conclusions, and despite all evidence to the contrary, clings to her delusions out of fear, pride and shame.

But when bad ideas meet the real world, people suffer. 265 deaths as of this writing, and climbing.

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