A Misleading View

Protect the public from McCarthy's dangerous misinformation

Published on July 19, 2013by Patches Magarro

Dear ABC:

Your decision to hire Jenny McCarthy to be the co-host on your popular show, The View, is making New Jersey pediatrician Christopher Weiss, and others like him sigh with regret. Sure, she is pretty and funny. But, as Dr. Weiss points out, “She isn’t just a playmate any more.”

Now, she’s dangerous.

Her passionate quest to spread misinformation that vaccines cause autism puts the public’s health at risk. By putting her on the same stage, literally, as Barbara Walters—a serious journalist—you legitimize her.  As Dr. Weiss points out, even the president appears on your show.

McCarthy’s access to millions of viewers five days a week is cause for concern. Dr. Margaret Fisher, Infectious Disease specialist, attributes the reluctance of some parents to accept the conclusive proof that vaccines do not cause autism to the phenomenon that, “When celebrities say something people tend to give them credence.” Apparently, that is even the case when the celebrity proclaims to only have a degree “from the University of Google,” and, according to Fisher, there are many studies showing no link between vaccines and autism.

Fisher credits another culprit for the longevity of this piece of bad science—no alternative answer. Although vaccines have been proven not to cause autism, there is still no definitive answer as to what does cause it. That void coupled with the large audience of The View could perpetuate belief in McCarthy’s false information.

Your format for The View is designed to offer a variety of perspectives and balance. A commensurate counterpoint to McCarthy’s falsehoods would be difficult to manage due to the complete absence of legitimate scientific evidence to support McCarthy’s claims. It’s Jenny’s misguided opinion v. the entire scientific community.

Vaccine opponents base their stance on a 1998 article by Andrew Wakefield that appeared in the Lancet. The journal later retracted the paper and Wakefield was stripped of his medical license and convicted of fraud. Unfortunately, many people who had heard of the original study haven’t heard about the retraction or the data fixing Wakefield committed. McCarthy could perpetuate the outdated and dangerous claims that article started.

Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is the author of Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. He went on the Colbert Report to discuss vaccines with Colbert, who satirically adopted the anti-vaccine point of view. The comic element of that exchange was derived from how absurd the anti-vaccine messages sound. When Colbert referred to Wakefield, Offit addressed his retracted Lancet paper by saying,” Studies have shown vaccines don’t cause autism. That (Wakefield article) was never a study.”

If just some of your millions of viewers do not vaccinate their children, the results could be dire. There have already been outbreaks of preventable diseases in the wake of lower vaccination rates. California saw the worst outbreak of whooping cough in 60 years in 2010 when 10 children died from the disease. Those who don’t vaccinate run the risk of perpetuating an epidemic like this when it hits.

New York City currently has 56 cases of measles, the largest outbreak since its endemic spread has been eliminated. When a downswing in vaccination rates accompanies these kinds of outbreaks, it risks the lives and health of unnecessarily unvaccinated children and those who cannot be vaccinated for legitimate reasons. McCarthy must not be aware that measles can be fatal in two out of a thousand cases since she told Time magazine that if given the choice between autism and measles, she would “stand in line for the f­­­–king measles.” It’s not surprising that she is uninformed about current rates of infection and death, given that she has no medical training whatsoever.

Unlike McCarthy, there are other parents of autistic children who are bravely looking beyond their emotional experiences and accepting the truth. Alison Singer is the president of the Autism Science Foundation and  a mother of two. Her first-born has autism, but her second child has still received all of her vaccinations. Singer points to the twenty-eight reputable studies on the foundation’s website as the sort of reliable information that can help parents feel secure in their decision to protect their children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Danielle Lumby is the mother of four boys, the second of which is autistic. When it came time to vaccinate her two subsequent children, she thought carefully about what she felt was best. She waited until the boys were two, and then had them vaccinated.

When Dr. Weiss faces a reluctant parent, he gets personal. To reassure his patients how positive he is that there is no reason to fear autism from a vaccination, he discusses his own children. He says, “I would never suggest that you do something that I wouldn’t do for my own kids. My kids had all of their vaccinations on time.”

If the proven science discounting the link between vaccines and autism had a platform as powerful as the The View, maybe all parents could be at ease when protecting their children from preventable diseases. Singer is hoping that McCarthy has accepted the irrefutable scientific evidence and will “share what we know about vaccines. I’m hoping that’s what she’ll do with her new platform.” However, just as there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism, there has not been any evidence that McCarthy has heard the voice of reason.

The best use of McCarthy’s debut would be to feature a true expert, with a real medical degree, on your show on September 9th to present the truth about the safety of vaccines. But, how will you handle the subject on an ongoing basis? Will you restrict your newest co-host from propagating fraudulent medical misinformation? If not, how will ABC address any unscientific falsehoods that McCarthy might spout? Do you plan to have a doctor on hand to correct McCarthy each time she discusses the topic? Or, will you flash a disclaimer each time she recites a pseudo fact?

One to consider:

“The views expressed on this broadcast are those of Ms. McCarthy and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the ABC network.  Or for that matter, the views of the entire medical community.”

Edited by Joshua Brooks

A previous version of this article stated there were 2,000 studies showing no link between vaccines and autism.