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- Actress Jenny McCarthy is one of the most well-known voices in the anti-vaccination movement.
- Since 2007, McCarthy has spoken out about vaccinations causing autism, based on her experiences with her son Evan, who is now 17 years old, who she said was diagnosed with autism after having the measles vaccination.
- The false myth that there’s a link between autism and the measles vaccine traces back to a discredited British doctor named Andrew Wakefield, whose study has since been retracted.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of measles cases in the US has risen to a total of 704 cases across 22 states – the greatest number of cases reported in the US since 1994, and since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000.
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Jenny McCarthy, the actress and celebrity who got her start as a Playboy bunny, has long been vocal about her anti-vaccination beliefs. With more than 700 cases of measles reported across the US – the great number of cases reported since 1994 – it appears her messaging may be working.
Vaccines have long come under attack from anti-vaxxers, who use false claims and junk science to argue against them, often spreading that rhetoric on social media. “It’s this massive propaganda campaign,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, previously told INSIDER. “By some estimates there are almost 500 anti-vaccine websites amplified on Facebook, they weaponize Amazon… we are seeing real public health damage being done.”
Celebrities, like McCarthy, have proven influential in espousing the false notion that vaccines are somehow dangerous.
Since 2007, McCarthy has spoken out about vaccinations causing autism, based on her experiences with her son Evan, who is now 17 years old. McCarthy claims Evan was diagnosed with autism after having the MMR [measles, mumps, and rubella] vaccination. She told CNN that her son has since “recovered” from autism through a regiment including diet change, vitamins and supplements, and detoxing the body from metals and candida. In 2014, McCarthy slammed rumors that he was actually diagnosed with Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, a rare disorder in which children lose the ability to verbalize and comprehend language.
In the years since, McCarthy has published multiple books on the subject, and serves as board president of the non-profit organization Generation Rescue, widely considered an anti-vaxx group that links autism to vaccines and promotes medically unproven treatments for autism. While promoting one of her books, McCarthy told Oprah that she learned about autism from “the University of Google.”
“We firmly believe the cause of the epidemic of autism is due to a vaccine injury and/or other environmental exposures – pesticides also,” McCarthy told FRONTLINE in a 2015 interview. “The moment that I went online and researched about autism and saw and learned about a vaccine connection, I felt this kind of jolt, honestly, physically throughout my whole body, and said, ‘Oh.’ It was almost like I got on the right train right now for my life’s purpose.”
As recently as May 2018, McCarthy told CNBC that she considers being an advocate for children with autism her most important role in life.
The false myth that autism and the measles vaccine are linked traces back to a 1998 study by the British doctor Andrew Wakefield – a study that has since been retracted, but was widely spread by well-known figures like McCarthy. Wakefield was ultimately stripped of his medical license for “serious professional misconduct” and found guilty of acting with “callous disregard” for the pain of children.
In a 2010 statement, however, McCarthy wrote that she believed Wakefield was “being discredited to prevent an historic study from being published,” and described him as “one of the world’s most respected and well-published gastroenterologists.”
Not surprisingly, ABC’s 2013 announcement that McCarthy was joining “The View” as a co-host sparked a firestorm of criticism from doctors, journalists, and others who argued her elevated platform would enable her to better spread vaccination-related misinformation, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.
In a letter to ABC at the time, Slate writer Phil Plait said that “Ms. McCarthy is a vocal activist for highly dangerous health ideas, including the mistaken belief that vaccines cause autism. While the world suffers outbreaks of measles and pertussis, Ms. McCarthy continues to advocate against vaccines. Having her host a respected show like ‘The View’ would damage its reputation.”
Michael Specter, of The New Yorker, added that McCarthy “will be the show’s first co-host whose dangerous views on childhood vaccination may – if only indirectly – have contributed to the sickness and death of people throughout the Western world,” while The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that McCarthy’s beliefs “have been roundly dismissed and discredited by doctors and scientists, who insist that her claims are based on no scientific data or research.”
McCarthy’s time on The View was short-lived and, in an excerpt from reporter Ramin Setoodeh’s upcoming book “Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of ‘The View,’ ” she said that her viewpoints on vaccines created turbulence with co-host Barbara Walters.
In an excerpt from the book, published by Vulture, about the criticism she received from the media at the time of her hiring, McCarthy said “I had to deal with a hurricane, a tornado. I consider myself to be pro-vaccine, but pro-safe vaccine.”
Her rhetoric, however, tells a different story. When asked by FRONTLINE in 2015 about the use of vaccines to combat vaccine-preventable illnesses, she said: “if you ask 99.9 percent of parents who have children with autism if we’d rather have the measles versus autism, we’d sign up for the measles,” adding that if she had another child, she wouldn’t vaccinate.
McCarthy’s rep did not immediately respond to a request from INSIDER for comment.