More and more articles are popping up about the controversy surrounding actress-slash-talk-show host Jenny McCarthy’s new job on "The View." Specifically, it's McCarthy's low (and loud) negative opinion of childhood vaccines that's getting folks most riled up.
Some public health officials fear that the View could serve as a platform for the star to spread her anti-vaccine attitude. The Atlantic went so far as to put the star’s pet cause on par with central goals of the Taliban, perhaps the most infamous of the anti-vaccine ilk.
McCarthy’s anti-vaccine crusade stems from the now refuted claim that mumps, measles and rubella vaccinations are linked to an increased risk of autism. The star’s son was diagnosed with the disorder several years ago and she has been vocal about her belief that vaccinations were the culprits that lead to his autism. A recent Boston.com post explained where the vaccine/autism frenzy comes from and why the study that brought the idea to the public consciousness is now discredited by the scientific community:
A study by British researcher Andrew Wakefield published in the journal Lancet first implicated the combination measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine as a cause of colitis as well as autism spectrum disorders. The findings led to a sharp decline in vaccination rates. However, a closer review by a British journalist as well as the scientific community in 2004 found that the evidence in the study had been falsified. As a result, Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine. While McCarthy has stayed true to her beliefs about the link between autism and vaccines, there is no scientific evidence that links vaccines to the development of autism.
In response to a pushy Toronto Public Health campaign that implored ABC executives to fire McCarthy, the CBC radio program Airplay interviewed their in house medical expert, Dr. Brian Goldman, about the issue. During the radio spot, Goldman discussed the powers of celebrity advocacy on public opinion.
People don't necessarily take the opinion of scientists over celebrities. Sometimes they take celebrities opinions. I can tell you in the case of Katie Couric who herself hosts an afternoon show on syndication, when she was the host of the Today Show on NBC television, she had telecast her own colonoscopy, live on network television. And as a direct result of that, colonoscopy rates in the United States went up dramatically and stayed up for an entire year. In fact, researchers dubbed that the “Katie Couric effect”. So never underestimate the impact of celebrities on changing the health habits of Americans, or Canadians for that matter, of the general population.
Goldman made the point that we are yet to see any peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate a clear link between McCarthy’s vaccine bashing and a flux in vaccine rates.
Before you can make the conclusion that she’s having an impact, you’ve got to see the results of a study.
More on vaccines from CommonHealth
This program aired on August 1, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.