Bad Ideas on Television: An Antivaccination “View”

FILE - This Feb. 4, 2013 file photo shows American comedian, actress, and author Jenny McCarthy posing for a portrait, in New York. The actress and former Playboy playmate was named Monday, July 15, to join the panel of the ABC weekday talk show "The View." Barbara Walters, who created “The View” in 1997 and has since served as a co-host, made the widely expected announcement on the air. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

This Feb. 4, 2013 file photo shows Jenny McCarthy posing for a portrait, in New York. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

Jenny McCarthy has been hired as a “personality” on “The View,” ABC’s morning TV show, and this is, most likely, a very bad thing.

It will give her a platform from which to proclaim bad ideas, primarily the idea that vaccines cause autism.

Vaccines do not cause autism.

Multiple scientific studies have found no connection between vaccines and autism, because there is none. And the person who initially claimed there was, in a scientific study, Andrew Wakefield, falsified his research on the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, and is no longer permitted to practice medicine in his home nation, the United Kingdom.

Let me say this again: Vaccines do not cause autism.

That’s not to say vaccines don’t cause side-effects. They can and they do. Most of them are minor (itching, redness at the injection site), but in very, very, incredibly rare cases there have been serious complications of vaccines.

It is much rarer, however, to have such a thing happen than to have a serious complication from most of the diseases that vaccines prevent, such as measles.

Measles encephalitis killed the young daughter of Roald Dahl, one of my favorite children’s authors, for example. And measles has had a death rate of about .2 percent, or 1 in 500 people who contract measles. That doesn’t sound like much, but there have been between 37 and 140 cases each year since 1996.

In comparison, the MMR vaccine causes encephalopathy in fewer than 1 in 1,000,000 cases. Fevers, rashes and other side-effects are more common, and the vaccine is still far, far less likely to be fatal than that 1/500 number.

Autism is not a side-effect of vaccines.

Unfortunately, Jenny McCarthy has continued to believe that vaccines cause autism, despite all the research done since the 1990s that indicates otherwise, and she promotes this particular “view” in a big way, even speaking at antivaccine rallies.

She encourages people to believe that vaccines cause autism, that they are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent.

But vaccines don’t cause autism.

And many people have protested McCarthy joining the cast of “The View” for that very reason–it could be very dangerous if she promotes her bad idea and people believe it. We could see a resurgence in dangerous infectious diseases such as whooping cough, which is especially dangerous to babies, or German measles, which, ironically, does increase a child’s risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder if a mother contracts it during pregnancy.

It has been very irksome to see McCarthy’s “view” as being “controversial.” It is not. The medical and scientific establishment is nearly unanimous on the subject: Vaccines don’t cause autism.

Her view isn’t controversial. It’s simply incorrect. It was very reasonable at one point to believe that vaccines could cause autism, because Wakefield hadn’t been caught yet, and the scientific studies hadn’t been done to show otherwise, but since then many studies have been done.

McCarthy isn’t controversial at all, she’s just wrong. And it’s easy to see why; her own public statements show a very hazy grasp on science:

“Think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.”

Yet you can pull on somebody’s fingers all day long and not cause them to pass gas, because the two things aren’t actually related at all, unless the person concerned deliberately makes that happen.

To that extent, it’s a good analogy, because finger-pulling doesn’t cause farts, just like vaccines actually don’t cause autism.

I feel so silly for even writing that sentence, but it’s not me being silly here, it’s McCarthy’s poor understanding of cause-and-effect that’s silly.

And it’s not funny at all. If even a few kids aren’t vaccinated because of McCarthy’s incorrect idea, some could be blinded, deafened, or even killed. And not just the kids that aren’t vaccinated, either. Those kids can spread those illnesses to others–children who can fight it off, but also children who can’t, elderly adults, people who are immune-compromised because they’re on chemotherapy, or just people whose vaccines didn’t provide them full immunity.

If McCarthy airs her incorrect “view” on TV, and people–not doing the research, or finding one of the many websites filled with false information–believe her, it could really hurt people. It is even possible that it could harm people if she doesn’t talk about vaccines on television–just having a position on a TV show could lead people to believe what she has already said in other venues.

And that’s a bad idea.

3 thoughts on “Bad Ideas on Television: An Antivaccination “View”

  1. This is very good information. I actually did a reasearch paper on immunizations, and how Andrew Wakefield falsified his study. I’m glad that he lost his medical licence and can no longer practice. However there are individuals that are still buying into that false information. I sympathize with parents of autistic children and all the trials they have to go through. It’s a hard road to walk down, but blaming it on vaccines is not the answer. In this country deadly diseases have been irradicated because of vaccines. In my opinion, I would look to the changing environment and the increased use of chemicals, on our food, in our water, in the clothes we wear, and the air we breathe.

    • So far, the best bet seems to be genetics, and it’s also very important to understand that the apparent rise in autism may be largely due to:

      1. changes in diagnostic measures, which have greatly broadened the criteria for being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders,
      2. increased awareness of autism, and of the difference between it and other developmental issues,
      3. more availability (though still far short of what is needed) of help for autistic people, which may or may not give parents incentives to get proper diagnoses,
      4. generalized increased visibility of people with disabilities, because they’re not being placed in mental institutions or shut away in homes, but are being encouraged to be part of their communities whenever possible.

      In other words, in the past, the high-functioning Aspergers person might well have just been the weird kid at school (though mind that plenty of us weird kids also don’t have ASDs), and the more severely-affected person with autism might have been institutionalized, with the family simply not talking about it at all.

      Some of these issues are addressed here at the very end of the document here: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/parents-guide/downloads/parents-guide-part4.pdf

      Andrew Wakefield was in Minneapolis in the past couple of years, giving Somalian families incorrect information about vaccines and autism, so he has by no means stopped, and continues contributing to the spread of infectious diseases.

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