We’ll take the money you can bring us, even if you’re antivaccine

I’m sure this is a case where someone thought it was a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s an astoundingly bad idea:

The Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation is bringing McCarthy to town March 2 to headline its annual Bust a Move fundraiser as a guest fitness instructor. But the actress, author and former Playboy playmate is perhaps best known these days for her unconventional views on autism, specifically her anti-vaccination writings. Her son Evan Joseph was diagnosed with autism in 2005, but McCarthy says now her son is in “recovery” and is doing much better.

McCarthy has claimed in interviews that her son was healed by experimental and unproven biomedical treatments, and she blamed the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine for giving her son autism.

Yet despite her views, for which scientists have labelled her a menace to vaccination efforts, McCarthy was the choice of the cancer foundation for the fundraiser, to be held at the Ottawa Athletic Club. Funds raised from the event will go to the foundation to support breast cancer programs throughout Eastern Ontario.

One has to wonder what the people at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Center were smoking that made them think that it would be a good idea to bring a celebrity who is as anti-science and anti-vaccine as Jenny McCarthy to be the face of its fundraiser. It would be one thing if she were a crank in an area unrelated to cancer care, but being antivaccine directly endangers cancer patients. If, for example, a cancer patient gets the flu because an employee of the cancer center or other person with whom they came into contact didn’t get vaccinated because Jenny McCarthy or one of her fellow anti-vaccine travelers said the vaccine’s full of “toxins,” doesn’t work, will give you Alzheimer’s disease, and turn you into a newt in such a way that you won’t get better, that’s a problem for cancer care. The flu can be deadly in immunosuppressed cancer patients. Ditto a lot of other vaccine-preventable diseases. Jenny McCarthy’s message is not good for cancer patients, and I don’t care how great it is that she’s managed to reinvent herself as a fitness maven selling exercise tapes. On the one hand, she’s doing a bit to help fight obesity and the health problems to which a sedentary lifestyle contributes. On the other hand, she’s preaching a message that, if people take it seriously enough that vaccination rates fall below the level needed for herd immunity, will lead to the return of vaccine-preventable diseases with all the morbidity and mortality they can cause.

Score one for my alma mater, as a pediatrician there tells it like it is:

Dr. Gary Freed, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and former chair of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the United States, said inviting McCarthy to the event, even if it’s not to lecture on her views and even if it’s for a good cause, is a bad idea.

“It’s disappointing that someone who peddles in pseudo science and has had such a negative impact on the health and well-being of so many children would ever be invited to participate in any type of legitimate health care program,” Freed said Tuesday night. “It, unfortunately, could be viewed as a sign of legitimacy of her dangerous, damaging and totally inaccurate pronouncements regarding the importance of vaccines.

“Her actions have potentially caused innocent children to be unprotected from potentially life-threatening illnesses. That is inexcusable and should never be given a public forum.”

I wouldn’t go quite that far. I’d qualify the statement to say that she should never be given a public forum associated with health care in any capacity. Even if she just smiles, tells jokes, and does her schtick for the Bust A Move fundraiser, her views not only cloud the event and risk a backlash in which people who are aware of her antivaccine moves will be less likely to donate, but the message being sent by the Ottawa Regional Cancer Center is that it’s OK, that McCarthy’s antivaccine views aren’t so bad, and that the leadership there is completely unconcerned with whether or not their institution associates itself with someone promoting dangerous misinformation about health. Their lack of concern amounts to either a tacit endorsement or a strong message that McCarthy’s views just aren’t that important when it comes to cancer patients. They are dead wrong, their rationalizations notwithstanding:

Bernice Rachkowski, chair of the event, said McCarthy was not chosen for her views.

“We chose her because she’s funny, she’s very much a people person, she’s vivacious and full of life. That’s what we look for in a celebrity,” Rachkowski said.

“She also appeals to our target demographic because we want to engage younger women in being aware of breast cancer, how to prevent it and to be aware of all the help that is available if they, their aunt or mom are going through it,” she said.

Rachkowski said she’d be surprised if people were upset by the choice of McCarthy as a charity headliner. She said McCarthy was booked as a celebrity spokesperson for the event and not because of her beliefs on autism.

“We hope people understand that we’re bringing Jenny here as an entertainer and not for her personal views,” said Rachkowski.

In other words, we don’t care. She could be shilling for Stanislaw Burzynski or Tullio Simoncini, for all we care, as long as she brings in the bodies and the money. For shame M.s Rachkowski, for shame!