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Home » Jenny McCarthy, with help from Oprah, misinforms about vaccines

Jenny McCarthy, with help from Oprah, misinforms about vaccines

Jenny McCarthy was once the MTV drunk college dating game hostess and former “journalist” on The View. I remember when she joined The View – there was widespread condemnation of her hiring from scientists, journalists, and yours truly because of her annoying anti-vaccine rhetoric. Clearly, no one of any note supported her being hired on the View, except for websites like the Age of Pushing Nonsense To Harm Children.

Photo by Kayla Velasquez on Unsplash

Jenny McCarthy talks about vaccines in a newspaper

This is old news for those of you who follow Jenny McCarthy and her “career.” If you didn’t know, Jenny also had a newspaper column at the Chicago Sun-Times, where, I suppose, she could comment on anything she likes. I have never read it. Until I did.

In her column of 12 April 2014, she wrote:

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.”

Wait! What? She said she is not anti-vaccine?

She then continues with:

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 happened to critical thinking? What happened to asking questions because every child is different?

Inaccurate blog posts driving media outlets? Critical thinking? Does Jenny even know what constitutes critical thinking? This sounds like the ranting of any number of conspiracy pushers who say “I’ve been misunderstood,” yet when one looks into it, there’s no misunderstanding. Remember, the internet doesn’t forget.

I don’t mean to be picky, but it’s not going to take me much work to refute this “I am not anti-vaccine” claim. I’m not going to sweat doing it. Because the internet really doesn’t forget anything.

The internet remembers Jenny McCarthy and vaccines

She’s made some incredibly unfortunate comments about vaccines and her son’s “autism” (scare quotes, because many physicians are not convinced her son has any type of Autism spectrum disorder).

Although she likely didn’t say this, a parody post wrote a funny “fake” statement by her:

Let me see if I can put this in scientific terms: Think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.

Let me see if I can put this in real scientific terms – vaccines don’t cause autism. Period. This is not in dispute with anyone that uses real evidence published by real researchers in real journals. The evidence that rejects a link between vaccines and autism is overwhelming and nearly irrefutable.

There are just so many quotes from Jenny about vaccines that I could spend days discussing them. So, what else has she said:

  • “People are also dying from vaccinations. Evan, my son, died in front of me for two minutes. You ask any mother in the autism community if we’ll take the flu, the measles, over autism and day of the week. I think they need to wake up and stop hurting our kids.”
  • “Without a doubt in my mind, I believe that vaccinations triggered Evan’s autism.”

Of course, I’ve already refuted the trope about vaccines causing autism. But the lies about vaccine safety are outrageous. For example, over one billion children have been vaccinated against measles. 

After getting those vaccines, we are not seeing a massive epidemic of autism or anything else, although anti-vaxxers will pull out nonsense VAERstics to prove otherwise. Unless you really want to put on the tinfoil hat and claim that Big Media is hiding this story, there is no story. Dumpster diving into the VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) database is the best that they can do.

However, it’s generally very difficult to establish causality between vaccines and these adverse events, especially using VAERS data. The best, and truly only, way to develop a link between vaccines and anything is to perform a clinical trial or a powerful and large epidemiological study. The opinions of Jenny McCarthy are irrelevant.

But vaccines, despite being reasonably safe, save about 6 million lives a year. Let me repeat — six million lives are saved every year.

Oprah steps in

How did Jenny McCarthy develop her world-class thinking skills? Did she go to college? No. Did she get a Ph.D. in say immunology? No.

During an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2007, excerpted from Seth Mnookin’s book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, Jenny describes her education on vaccines, autism, treatments:

McCarthy: First thing I did—Google. I put in autism. And I started my research.

Winfrey: Thank God for Google.

McCarthy: I’m telling you.

Winfrey: Thank God for Google.

McCarthy: The University of Google is where I got my degree from. . . . And I put in autism and something came up that changed my life, that led me on this road to recovery, which said autism—it was in the corner of the screen—is reversible and treatable. And I said, What?! That has to be an ad for a hocus pocus thing, because if autism is reversible and treatable, well, then it would be on Oprah.

Why didn’t Oprah Winfrey call Jenny on this? Why would Oprah consider Gooquivalent to advanced degrees that actually have relevance to vaccine research? The University of Google degree is worthless.

Jenny admitted that her “opinions” about vaccines aren’t based on knowledge derived from a Ph.D. in any of the basic biomedical sciences or based on 20 years of scientific research in a world-class laboratory.

Instead, her vaccine opinions are constructed from a few minutes of Googling, without any indication of critical thinking skills to understand and analyze the quality of anything that shows up in a Google search.

A real critical thinker (and she chose to accuse bloggers of not being critical thinkers) looks at the evidence, using it to lead to a conclusion based on the amount and quality of said evidence. She thinks critical thinking is inventing a conclusion, that vaccines caused her child’s issues. Then she finds anything, of any quality, to support her belief. She is doing what we call “pseudoscience.”

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.

And more Dunning Kruger

The fact that she has no authority in the area of vaccines is only part of the problem. She uses her celebrity status to misinform people about vaccines, supporting the suspicion that she has contributed to at least some of the vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths that are made prominent on the Body Count (this website is one of the first I ever saw about debunking the anti-vaccine movement).

Here’s an excerpt of some of her more profound ignorance about vaccines in an interview with Time Magazine:

Time: Your collaborator recommends that parents accept only the Haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB) and tetanus vaccine for newborns and then think about the rest. Not polio? What about the polio clusters in unvaccinated communities like the Amish in the U.S.? What about the 2004 outbreak that swept across Africa and Southeast Asia after a single province in northern Nigeria banned vaccines?

Jenny: 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.

Jenny is providing us with a false and dangerous dichotomy. Jenny wants us to believe that the choice is between preventing polio, a dangerous, sometimes deadly disease, and a vaccine, about which there is no evidence of a link to autism.

She’s making a provocative statement that lacks any element of fact or truth. The choice is really between getting polio or getting the polio vaccination.

Jenny, in her recent column, is attempting to walk back from her ignorant comments about vaccines (first by claiming she never said them) by manufacturing a more nuanced anti-vaccine belief:

I believe in the importance of a vaccine program and I believe parents have the right to choose one poke per visit. I’ve never told anyone to not vaccinate. Should a child with the flu receive six vaccines in one doctor visit? 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?

Ignoring the fact that we combine more and more antigens into one “poke” (a word rarely used to describe vaccinations or immunizations) –for example, the new-ish quadrivalent vaccine, MMRV (mumps, measles, rubella, and chickenpox) combines four vaccines into one. So, biomedical science is working to reduce the number of “pokes” for babies, because frankly, the injection itself is what scares many parents.

Jenny probably can’t help being ignorant about real science. Maybe it’s a lack of education or an innate inability to think critically. Maybe she assumes she can say whatever she wants because she is a D-list celebrity.

But she is now lying about her past beliefs in being rabidly anti-vaccine. Moreover, her current argument that some vaccines are necessary is completely refuted by her past comments.

In my opinion, she’s trying to reinvent herself into a more reasonable person, but the result is the same. She spouts nonsense about vaccines. Her organization, Generation Rescue, continues to push anti-vaccine rhetoric.

Jenny McCarthy is simply an attractive, occasionally funny proponent of pseudoscience about vaccines. She wants to blame something on what happened to her child, but there is not one tiny bit of real medical evidence that her child’s diagnosis has anything to do with vaccines. She’s inventing misinformation using whatever fame she has (which is too much) as the bully pulpit to push dangerous ideas that can eventually harm children.

Editor’s note – this article was originally published in April 2014. It’s been updated to fix links, improve readability, and reformat. I can’t believe over 200,000 people still read this nearly 8-year-old article, but that’s where we are with the anti-vaccine movement. McCarthy is still out there promoting nonsense about all vaccines.

Key citations:

Michael Simpson
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