Yes, Jenny McCarthy, You Are Anti-Vaccine

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 13 2014 7:30 AM

Jenny McCarthy: “I’m Not ‘Anti-Vaccine’”

Jenny McCarthy
Which Jenny McCarthy should we believe?

Photo by DFree / Shutterstock

Jenny McCarthy is claiming she is not anti-vaccine.

Here’s the problem with that claim: Yes, she is. That’s patently obvious due to essentially everything she’s been saying about vaccines for years. Yet in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 12, 2014, she tries to ignore all that, and wipe the record clean.

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In case you think I may be misquoting her, here is the first line of that op-ed: “I am not ‘anti-vaccine.’”

So, there you go.

She says she’s never told anyone not to get vaccinated. Assuming that's true, great! But that’s hardly the entry-level position for being anti-vax. For example, you can say things that are grossly incorrect about them that would scare parents into not vaccinating their children. That would fit the moniker “anti-vax,” I’d think.

So, for example, saying vaccines have toxins in them—as she has said for years, and as she reiterates in her op-ed—is a clear sign of being anti-vax. After all, if someone tells you you’re putting toxins in your body, that sounds awful, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that make you want to stop doing whatever it is that’s putting them inside you?

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Yet as doctors say, dosage makes the poison. The amount of, say, formaldehyde in a typical vaccination is much less than you’d get eating an apple. The same can be shown for the other ingredients claimed to be toxins in vaccines as well. The truth is vaccines contain far too small a dose of any of these things to cause any of the problems McCarthy and other anti-vaxxers claim exist.

Also, botulinum is the single most lethal toxin known to humans. Yet McCarthy has enthusiastically praised injecting this toxin into her face. How can anyone possibly say that and also say vaccines have dangerous levels of toxins in them with a straight face?

Which brings us to autism. McCarthy is still claiming that there is a link between vaccines and autism. However that is simply not true. Again and again and again and again this has been shown. McCarthy asks us to talk to families of people who have children with autism. That's certainly a good place to start, but it's the first step to an answer, not the last. Anecdotes are not data. We know people are subject to dozens of different biases that lead them down the wrong path when trying to determine cause and effect. That’s why medical studies are done so carefully, to make sure we aren’t fooling ourselves. And the studies clearly show no connection between vaccines and autism.

And finally, let’s take a step back and look at the claim that she’s not anti-vax itself. Jeffrey Kluger is a science writer for Time magazine. He interviewed McCarthy in 2009 about this issue, and she mentions that interview in her op-ed piece. Kluger disagrees vehemently with what she wrote in the op-ed, to say the very least.

I can see why. Here is what she writes in the op-ed:

“People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines,” I told Time magazine science editor Jeffrey Kluger in 2009. “Please understand that we are not an anti-vaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.”

But Kluger points out that she left the last line out of that quotation. Here’s the whole thing:

People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines. Please understand that we are not an antivaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins. If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f--king measles.

Huh. That last line rather changes the tone of her position considerably, wouldn’t you agree? That’s a difficult stance to square with someone who is not anti-vaccine. As Kluger points out, her entire premise is false; since vaccines don’t cause autism, no one has to make the choice between measles (and other preventable, dangerous diseases) and autism.

Kluger finishes with this:

Jenny, as outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough continue to appear in the U.S.—most the result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of the scare stories passed around by anti-vaxxers like you—it’s just too late to play cute with the things you’ve said. You are either floridly, loudly, uninformedly antivaccine or you are the most grievously misunderstood celebrity of the modern era. Science almost always prefers the simple answer, because that’s the one that’s usually correct. Your quote trail is far too long—and you have been far too wrong—for the truth not to be obvious.

He’s right. She has gone on and on and on and on and on and on about it. She can claim all she wants that she’s not anti-vax, but her own words show her to be wrong.

Anti-vax is as anti-vax does. And she does.