In doing so, she has become the quintessential poster-child for the anti-vaccine movement. Having earned harsh criticism and much rebuke from the medical community and outraged parents, McCarthy has recently written an op-ed column in the Chicago Sun Times, clarifying her position in the ongoing vaccine dilemma.
The View host has a son, who has been diagnosed as being autistic. She is convinced that it was caused by the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine given to him when he was a baby. She has taken her cues from the controversial and widely discredited theory put forth by Andrew Wakefield and others in 1998 that vaccines can cause or exacerbate autism. The findings have since been roundly debunked, Wakefield’s co-authors have changed their stance and most importantly, his medical license was revoked for the falsification of data. But all that appears to make little difference to McCarthy’s ardent beliefs about the MMR vaccine and autism.
McCarthy has also supported the theory that thimerosal, a preservative in children’s vaccines causes autism. But pharmaceutical companies in America removed thimerosal from childhood vaccines in 2001, and other countries like Canada eliminated it years earlier. The deletion has made no quantifiable difference to the rate of autism diagnosis in these countries. In other words, no connection has ever been established between the vaccine’s preservative and autism.
The model and actress has also claimed that vaccines are full of dangerous toxins such as formaldehyde. But medical professionals have categorically stated that the amount of formaldehyde in vaccines is lower than what one would ingest by eating a washed apple.
McCarthy has repeatedly been confronted with such scientific data but she has vociferously pushed back against it, calling it tainted and biased. In a Time magazine article, she told science editor Jeffrey Kluger in 2009, “Please understand that we are not an anti-vaccine group…[but] 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.” However, as Kluger points out, there is no scientific connection between the measles vaccine and autism. So the issue of choice doesn’t arise, given the false premise.
Despite her documented battle against vaccinations, McCarthy appears to have a positional dilemma about the issue in her op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times. She claims that she is “not anti-vaccine” and has been wrongly branded. Reiterating her “pro-vaccine” position, McCarthy states that in the issue of vaccination, there is a gray area between right and wrong. And that is where she stands and questions the one size fits all paradigm of vaccinations. Instead, she says that parents have the right to question vaccination schedules and demand safe vaccines. “I believe in the importance of a vaccine program and I believe parents have the right to choose one poke per visit,” she writes.
And this assertion of parental choice, of bucking schedules or not getting vaccines at all, is being connected to the resurgence of diseases like measles, mumps and whooping-cough in parts of America. The concentration of these outbreaks in New York, Boston and Los Angeles have been tied to areas with high numbers of consciously unvaccinated children.
For many, the editorial is simply confusing. Her play of words is not sitting well with those who are pro-vaccine, in theory and praxis. Her critics, many of them vociferous, are pointing to her long and on-record trail of soundbites and quotes, and are refusing to accept her new position.
According to them, MacCarthy’s celebrityhood and the platform it provides her have gone a long way in muddying the waters with respect to childhood vaccinations. McCarthy’s misguided advocacy about supposed health dilemmas caused by vaccines has undone decades of medical efforts to eradicate dangerous childhood diseases. And yet, McCarthy, who has repeatedly called lifesaving childhood vaccines dangerous and unnecessary, has no qualms in using Botox, a lethal pathogen for humans, and calls it “her savior.” Her proclamations of love for Botox are unaccompanied by a sense of irony.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay.