ABC this week named Jenny McCarthy—who openly opposes vaccinating children—as a co-host for "The View," a move that medical experts worry will harm public health, USA Today reports.
McCarthy in 2008 founded Generation Rescue, an autism awareness and activism organization, after her son was born with autism and she concluded that vaccines were the cause. And McCarthy’s pulpit allowed her to spread her anti-vaccine message: A USA Today poll from 2008 found that about one in four U.S. adults at the time were familiar with McCarthy's views on vaccines, and about 40% of those adults said her views made them more likely to question the safety of vaccines.
Some parents of autistic children have called McCarthy an inspiration. However, public health experts worry that she’s been a detriment to safety efforts.
"Jenny McCarthy's unfounded claims about the dangers of vaccines has been one of the greatest impediments to efforts to vaccinate children in recent decades," says Amy Pisani, the executive director of Every Child by Two, an international immunization group.
Pediatrician: 'People listen to celebrities'
Writing in the Boston Globe this week, Boston Children's Hospital pediatrician Claire McCarthy argues that ABC's choice to hire McCarthy could cost children's lives.
According to Dr. McCarthy (no relation), Jenny's repeated public statements that vaccines caused her son to develop autism, despite a lack of research to support the theory, have been detrimental to public health. She writes that Jenny "is a supporter of Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor whose study linking the MMR vaccine and autism was found to be based on fraudulent data."
Dr. McCarthy further praises vaccinations for their role in reducing child mortality from chicken pox, diphtheria, measles, polio, tetanus, whooping cough, and other preventable diseases.
Yet, "that doesn't stop Jenny McCarthy from saying vaccines aren't safe…[a]nd the problem is, people listen to celebrities," Dr. McCarthy writes. Celebrities—even those with no "scientific training or expertise"—get the public's attention and "say things that scare us."
She adds that Seth Mnookin—author of a book about the autism-vaccine controversy called The Panic Virus—says that it is hard to "unscare people" after an idea has permeated the national conversation.
Dr. McCarthy assigns blame to ABC, saying that the network "should know better" than hiring Jenny McCarthy, because "giving her a bigger platform, could end up causing some parents not to vaccinate."
She adds "[h]ave we really sunk so low as a society that ratings, and money, matter more than the health and safety of children?" (McCarthy, "MD Mama," Boston Globe, 7/15; Szabo, USA Today, 7/16; Healy, "Science Now," Times, 7/15;
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