Vaccinations vital to public health

The following is a guest column written by senior SIU journalism student Drake Hall.

Recently, the small-but-vocal anti-vaccine movement has been linked to small-scale outbreaks of preventable diseases across the country. Most media outlets have done the appropriate thing and reported on the movement using science to point out the dangers of opting out of childhood vaccinations. ABC, however, has made itself complicit in the dangerous anti-vaccine movement by giving a platform to its leader, Jenny McCarthy.

Opting out of vaccinations is dangerous. Just over a week ago, California health officials reported the largest measles outbreak in decades. More than 20 people have contracted the illness and so far seven have been hospitalized. This outbreak and others across the country have been attributed to people who have forgone vaccinations.

Skipping vaccinations isn’t just dangerous for those who opt out. Many children who can’t be vaccinated because of compromised immune systems depend on those around them being vaccinated to keep dangerous diseases at bay. It’s these children — and adults — who have the most to lose when outbreaks occur.

While the California outbreak might seem inconsequential, diseases can spread quickly when people aren’t vaccinated. One only needs to look at Syria, where civil war has disrupted the vaccinations of millions of children, for evidence. Polio, one of the most debilitating diseases in history, has made a swift comeback with 25 confirmed cases and more than 100 presumed cases in children who missed their vaccinations.

While vaccinations have been around for more than a century, the modern vaccination regimen only began in the 1960s and ‘70s. Over the past several decades, vaccines have reduced the number of infections of several diseases exponentially. Smallpox, a disease that used to wipe out entire populations, has been completely eradicated. The last case was in Somalia in the 1970s. Polio, measles and pertussis, or whooping cough, have been nearly eliminated thanks to vaccines.

Why, with all of the overwhelming evidence in favor of vaccines, would anyone object to vaccinating their children?

The modern anti-vaccine movement can be traced back to the turn of the century when a now-discredited scientific study out of England started getting attention. That study, headed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, linked autism in 12 children to vaccines they had received as babies. It turns out the study was deeply flawed and Wakefield actually had a financial stake in a newly developed alternative to the traditional vaccines that the study found faulty.

Despite the fact that Wakefield’s results have never been replicated and his study was fraudulent, people all over the globe developed a fear of vaccines. Jenny McCarthy, whose son was diagnosed with autism, though McCarthy now admits he is, in fact not autistic, joined the anti-vaccine movement and has been one of its most visible and vocal mouthpieces ever since.

McCarthy, who briefly studied nursing at SIU, has a long list of accomplishments, which includes being Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 1994, hosting the MTV dating series “Singled Out,” numerous film and television roles and writing books on parenting. None of these accomplishments, however impressive, qualify her to make judgments about the safety of vaccines.

Last fall though, ABC, one of the nation’s leading media outlets, did something to make her seem a little more legitimate than the average actress/playmate/comedian. It gave her a co-host position on their popular daytime talk show “The View”.

Because of “The View’s” time slot and its subject matter, it is arguable that many of its roughly 3 million viewers are parents with small children. When these viewers see Jenny McCarthy discussing current events with Barbara Walters, the show’s executive producer and lead co-host, and one of the most recognizable broadcast journalists of the past few decades, they’re being persuaded that her insights are qualified. They’re not.

Views like McCarthy’s are dangerous. By giving her a platform next to a respected journalist, ABC is legitimizing everything she says regardless of its accuracy. It is lending its credibility to a public health menace and boosting her visibility. Unless ABC wants a hand in the resurgence of some of America’s forgotten diseases, it should part ways with McCarthy.


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