Well-Meaning Celebrities Rail against Vaccines Contrary to Medical Facts
By Gerri Elder
There's no question that celebrities have tremendous influence in our culture-the power of celebrity endorsements speaks to this fact in a very real way. However, when celebrities begin to use their pulpits to speak about real-world issues rather than, say, which brand of hair coloring to buy, it brings to light the level of responsibility they owe to their public, as well as our individual responsibility in testing what they say against cold, hard facts.
Vaccines have remained a controversial issue in public conversation due to anecdotal evidence that they contain additives that may trigger or contribute to developmental disorders such as autism. However, this vaccine injury controversy remains only among the general public; the medical field has long ago discarded the notion that there exists a causal relationship between vaccines and autism.
Thimerosal (also called thiomersal) was a preservative used in the childhood DPT vaccine several decades ago that has come under fire for its alleged effect on infants and toddlers because of its methylmercury chemical structure. It was phased out as a vaccine preservative starting in 1999 partially due to this scare, but also due to the fact that single-vial dosages no longer required its use.
However, it should be understood that there is no convincing medical evidence that thimerosal is a trigger for autism. The link is often proposed by parents because of the coincidence of the highest concentration of childhood vaccines and the typical age for the onset of symptoms of autism, but the medical community rejects this temporal relationship as anything other than a coincidence.
That hasn't stopped husband and wife celebrities Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey from continuing public activism to raise awareness of this issue. Their "Green our Vaccines" message aims to work to rid vaccines of alleged additives that go beyond thimerosal, what they refer to in their speeches at rallies as "toxins."
But aside from preaching a message that has no real basis in medicine, there are dangers to their message that anyone with children should do well to consider.
Firstly, there's the ever-present danger that skipping vaccinations could lead to a public health crisis. There's a reason doctors took the time over the centuries to develop vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and diphtheria, among many other diseases: they have killed millions of people over past centuries. Failure to vaccinate could lead not only to greater susceptibility to fatal diseases among individuals, but it has the potential to lead to an outbreak of a disease that modern culture been able to contain in the last century.
Further, an unintended consequences of McCarthy and Carrey's well-meaning but misleading message is to distract attention away from real injuries sustained from vaccines that can be determined by medical science. The federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program recognizes that despite the lack of medical evidence backing the thimerosal/autism link, vaccines can and do contribute to certain injuries.
Injuries can also arise during vaccines that don't result from contaminants or other problems with the vaccine itself, but rather fall under the realm of medical malpractice. Such medical injuries could occur as a result of negligence in many instances, including inoculation with the wrong vaccine, improper execution of the inoculation, or other problems with the vaccine process.
It's a disservice to suffering individuals when celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey preach a public health message only backed by personal opinion and not medical science. Injuries resulting from vaccines and other drugs or medical procedures are real and occur as a matter of course, and by focusing our attention on these dubious issues, we're missing the real problem entirely.