Who Could it Hurt

Please note that this post is a repost from our old blog. The Ottawa Cancer Foundation retracted the invitation to Jenny McCarthy in part due to a twitter campaign #dropjenny.

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent paper linking autism to the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine. What followed was a growing movement of scared parents who began avoiding getting their kids vaccinated for fear that they would become autistic. For years scientists could not repeat the results found by Wakefield. Finally in 2004, Wakefield was found to have a conflict of interest in favour of finding a link between the vaccine and autism. In May of 2010, Andrew Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council and was struck of the medical register and banned from practicing medicine.

The rumour campaign against vaccines was picked up by Jenny McCarthy, an actress with no scientific or medical background. She became the mouthpiece for the supposed controversy, despite the fact that there was no scientific basis for any of the claims she made. Despite this, her fame allowed her greater publicity. She used her son’s supposed autism* to gain sympathy, and to tug at the heartstrings of worried parents everywhere.   Hordes of new parents opted against vaccines. Not just the MMR, but others as well. Parents began sending pox pops to one another, and holding chicken pox parties. Adults who had previously had their vaccines, opted against getting their regular boosters.

Since that time, the western world has seen a re-emergence of various diseases that before this time had been on their way to extinction: whooping cough, measles, mumps, and many more.   When confronted about their choice, many will answer: “It’s my kids/my health, I’m not hurting anyone else”

But see, the truth they don’t want to face is that it’s not themselves, or at least not just themselves, they are hurting. They are also hurting people whose immune systems have been compromised. People who have autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s or colitis, like lupus, diseases like HIV and AIDs, people on chemo or who have had an organ transplant, the elderly, and children. These are the people who will not only get sick, but are those most likely to suffer serious consequences like disability, even death as a result.  They are the people who rely on group immunity: who for one reason or another could not get the vaccine. People who, even if they were vaccinated, may not have enough of an immune response to fight off the illness.

People like me:

I’ve made mention before to the fact that I have Crohn’s disease. Like many other people with the disease, my treatment is a set of biologics that modulate (read: suppress) my immune system. This same treatment is used for a variety of ailments. Who am I? I’m the neighbour on the elevator who picked up your little girl’s teddy bear when she dropped it and tried to make her smile, not knowing she had the chicken pox. I’m the server that you found charming, who cleaned up after your son spilled his drink. I’m the girl who helped you up when you fell, the man that carried your heavy groceries to your car. I’m the doctor who saw you in emergency. I am you child’s teacher, your nurse, your mechanic, your lawyer, your sister in law, your hairstylist, your dentist. I am the cute thing you smiled at on the bus. I am any number of strangers you meet and interact with every day. I am the person who helped you, passed you by, stood next to you, or served you and I am the person you doomed to death. You can say you don’t know anyone who might be hurt by your lack of vaccination, but we are all around you. We may be your child’s mother or best friend. We can be anyone and you can never know. But ignorance of who we are won’t save you from having doomed us to death by your choice. Why do I bring this up now? Why does this matter?

Because, once again, Jenny McCarthy is making her appearance and this time in my city. She was invited by the Ottawa Cancer Foundation, to give a presentation regarding Bust A Move. While I can support the desire to use celebrity to raise money for a good cause, I believe that they make a mistake in inviting this particular person. The first and perhaps the most important is that through this move, they are lending support to Ms. McCarthy and her claims. Although they may not have intended this result, it is the one they have received. What follows from that is that they agree with, or at least lend credence, to her outrageous claims that vaccines cause autism and that she herself cured her son’s autism. This is turn is cause for concern. Seeing as the Cancer Foundation is responsible for helping fund research, one has to wonder what other pseudoscience they are supporting. Are they wasting valuable research funds on homeopathy? On other “alternate” treatments that amount to hooey? Second, by supporting Ms. McCarthy, they may be hurting their own cause. Ms. McCarthy’s anti-vax stand has in fact contributed to future cases of cancer. The HPV vaccine is the recipient of much of the same rhetoric that the MMR is. When pseudoscience and falsified research are used against one vaccine, they can be used against another. Moreover, the attempts at discrediting the later can be built on the foundation of rumours built by the former. Since HPV vaccine is believed to help reduce instances of both mouth cancer and prostate cancer in some, and cervical cancer in others, discouraging the population from receiving this vaccine will only add to Jenny McCarthy’s body count.

If Ottawa Cancer Foundation wishes to regain any reputation for good science, compassion, and understanding, they would do well to cancel Jenny McCarthy as a speaker. Third, such an invitation is an insult to everyone who has suffered as a result of anti-vaxxer policies. The countless people whose lives are put at risk when uninformed friends potentially expose them to dangerous ailments while on chemotherapy; the many others whose children may be permanently scarred or disabled because their friends didn’t have their vaccines. *There is a thought among medical experts that Jenny McCarthy’s son may not in fact be autistic, but may suffer from a disease that is frequently mistaken for autism. If this is the case, then all of her claims regarding vaccines, curing autism, etc. are made that much more invalid. It would mean that Ms. McCarthy, not only spread misinformation across the western world, but she did so over a lie involving her own son.

Edit 1: A good friend pointed out another angle of how the anti-vax campaign is insulting. It is a way to blame parents for their children having autism because they made the decision to vaccinate.

Edit 2: Oh how sexism lurks everywhere: According to a Maclean’s article on the subject, the reason they invited Jenny was because they are hoping to attract young women to the cause. Right, becuase young women are only interested in Pseudo-scientific bullshit, not real science. Come on Ottawa Cancer Foundation, seriously!? In reaching out to young women you insult them!? That does not seem like a good idea to me.

Who Could it Hurt

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