Comic actress and model Jenny McCarthy has made a lot of Americans laugh, but her tragically misguided political activism isn’t funny. It’s killing children.
Despite the absence of scientific evidence linking childhood immunizations to autism, Playboy magazine’s 1994 “Playmate of the Year” fervently believes childhood vaccines cause children to develop autism.
Appearing on high-profile TV shows such as “Oprah,” “20/20,” and “Larry King Live,” McCarthy has blamed her young son Evan’s autism on inoculations he received early in his life. As president of Generation Rescue, she blames “toxins” in vaccines for her son’s condition.
McCarthy now claims Evan was “cured” of the disorder through the use of “alternative” therapies such as massive amounts of vitamins, diets free of glutens and casein, aromatherapies, and even spoons rubbed on his body.
When Oprah Winfrey asked McCarthy whether what she did was scientific, McCarthy replied, “My science is Evan. He’s at home. That’s my science.”
As Martin Morse Wooster wrote in the current issue of Capital Research Center’s Foundation Watch, it’s not clear that Evan ever suffered from autism. Psychiatric disorders, including autism, are by their nature very difficult for people to understand.
Skeptics point out that autism is not well understood, even in the scientific community, so it’s not surprising that doctors disagree about what constitutes autism, its causes, and treatments. Autism is actually a blanket term that describes many individual conditions and disorders. It can be useful to think of autism as a spectrum of psychological conditions marked by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, in addition to limited interests and repetitive behavior.
Many scientists wonder whether Evan is, or ever was, autistic. As journalist Karl Taro Greenfeld noted in a 2010 article in Time, “Evan’s symptoms — heavy seizures, followed by marked improvement once the seizures were brought under control — are similar to those of Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a rare childhood neurological disorder that can also result in speech impairment and possible long-term neurological damage.” Another possible explanation for Evan’s “cure,” says Greenfeld, could simply be “a delayed 2-year-old catching up by the time he is 7, a commonplace, routine occurrence, nothing more surprising than a short boy growing tall.”
The anti-vaccine hysteria that McCarthy has helped to whip up has already claimed the lives of more than 700 children, according to the website JennyMcCarthyBodyCount.com. That website relies on data from the Centers for Disease Control that show that between June 2007 and May 2011 there were 78,981 preventable illnesses and 727 preventable deaths of children who could have been vaccinated but weren’t.
Danielle Romaguera of New Orleans told science writer Michael Fumento of her daughter Gabriella, who died of whooping cough when she was just a month old. That’s too young for a baby to be vaccinated. But because other children did not get their shots, whooping cough, once nearly eradicated, is reappearing in cities like New Orleans.
“People need to know they can infect other parents’ babies,” Romaguera said. “It kills. People think these diseases don’t exist anymore but that’s because children are being vaccinated.” Romaguera added that “our pediatrician says parents tell him all the time they don’t care what the science says. And because of it, babies and kids are dying.”
McCarthy continues to blame vaccines for autism even though a study she embraced was eventually revealed to be a scientific fraud.
The study by Andrew Wakefield, John Walker-Smith, and 10 other scientists at London’s Royal Free Hospital and Medical School appeared in a 1998 issue of The Lancet, a respected British medical journal. It reported that the scientists had examined 12 children who had received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. They reached a stunning conclusion: there was a strong connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.
But last year the study was disproved and then repudiated by The Lancet. Britain’s General Medical Council conducted an inquiry that lasted over 200 days. It culminated in the revocation of the licenses of both Wakefield and Walker-Smith.
“Dr. Wakefield has been shown to have used absolutely fraudulent data,” said Microsoft founder Bill Gates, a philanthropist who funds children’s health programs.
“He had a financial interest in some lawsuits, he created a fake paper, the journal allowed it to run. All the other studies were done, showed no connection whatsoever again and again and again. So it’s an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids. Because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn’t have their kids take either pertussis [i.e. whooping cough] or measles vaccine, and their kids are dead today. And the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts — you know, they kill children. It’s a very sad thing, because these vaccines are important.”
What has been McCarthy’s reaction to these damaging revelations? She has blamed vaccine manufacturers.
McCarthy issued a statement, posted on the Generation Rescue site in February 2010: “It is our most sincere belief that Dr. Wakefield and parents of children with autism around the world are being subjected to a remarkable media campaign engineered by vaccine manufacturers.”
She also declared that Britain’s General Medical Council is “a kangaroo court where public health officials in the pocket of vaccine makers served as judge and jury.”
How high will the body count have to rise before McCarthy and her supporters realize that refusing to vaccinate children does more harm than good?
Terrence Scanlon is president of Capital Research Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank that studies the politics of philanthropy. Scanlon was chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission during President Reagan’s second term.