Who cares what celebrities think about vaccines?

Celebrity antivaccine loons are all too common, and I’ve written about them over the years. For instance, there’s JennyMcCarthy. There are also Rob Schneider and Mayim Bialik. The list goes on There are also pro-vaccine celebrities, such as Amanda Peet. Of course, as tempting as it is simply to throw up my hands and say “Who cares what celebrities think about scientific and medical topics like vaccines” unfortunately in the real world people do care. That’s why we see articles like this from Parents Magazine, Where 13 Celebrity Parents Stand on Vaccinating Their Kids:

Ugh. Just ugh.

This article is one of the most annoying examples of false equivalence that I’ve seen. On the one side, we have nine pro-vaccine celebrities:

  • Kirsten Bell
  • Jennifer Garner
  • Kendra Wilkinson
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Tia Mowry
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar
  • Amanda Peet
  • Salma Hayek
  • Julie Bowen

Arrayed against them, we have four antivaccine celebrities:

  • Kristin Cavallari
  • Mayim Bialik
  • Alicia Silverstone
  • Jenny McCarthy

Jenny McCarthy? Really? How irresponsible is it to present the opinion of one of the leaders of the antivaccine movement over the last decade as being a valid take on vaccines? Take a look:

Jenny McCarthy, whose son Evan was diagnosed with autism in 2005, has famously been a vocal critic of vaccines. But in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, she clarified that “blatantly inaccurate blog posts about my position” presented her incorrectly as being anti-vaccine. “I believe in the importance of a vaccine program and I believe parents have the right to choose one poke per visit,” she wrote. “I’ve never told anyone to not vaccinate. I’m in this gray zone of, I think everyone should be aware and educate yourself and ask questions. And if your kid is having a problem, ask your doctor for an alternative way of doing the shots.”

Um, no. That’s nothing more than the old “I’m not ‘antivaccine’; I’m pro-safe vaccine” or “I’m not ‘antivaccine’; I’m a vaccine safety activist” gambit. In fact, I discussed the very op-ed referred to above when it was originally published and explained in detail why it did not show that Jenny McCarthy is not antivaccine. As I put it at the time, what do you call someone who repeats common antivaccine tropes? Either she’s antivaccine or she’s so scientifically ignorant as to be uneducable. Take your pick about McCarthy. Personally, although I’m not impressed in the least by her intellectual firepower, I don’t think she’s more than a standard deviation below the mean in IQ.

No, Jenny McCarthy is as antivaccine as they come, as I’ve documented on many occasions. For instance, she buys into the incredibly fallacious “toxins gambit,” in which antivaxers claim there are all sorts of horrific toxins in vaccines. She also frequently drives the stupidity about vaccines to ever higher levels. Of course, McCarthy has been very good at rewriting her history and sending the inconvenient bits down the old memory hole. Before she emerged as the antivaccine “warrior mom” trying to rid the world of autism by blaming it on vaccines and promoting biomedical quackery, Jenny McCarthy promoted New Age in which she ran a website devoted to what was referred to as Indigo Moms, believing that her son Evan was a “Crystal Child.” Tellingly, her IndigoMoms.com website disappeared shortly before the release of her first autism book in 2007, Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism. She obviously made the strategic decision that she couldn’t be seen to be associated with such New Age nonsense if she was ever going to be taken seriously as a crusader for autism. So she sent her old website down the memory hole, never to be seen again. She’s been trying to do the same thing with her antivaccine views, but it just hasn’t been working.

Of course, McCarthy isn’t the only one who’s antivaccine featured by Parents Magazine. There’s also Mayim Bialik:

Mayim Bialik opted not to vaccinate her two sons after “we researched every single vaccine, and we spoke about each individual vaccine with our pediatrician. We went to the CDC sources,” the actress and author told NPR. “The things that people choose to vaccinate against are not necessarily things that were vaccinated against 20, 30 years ago. My feeling is everyone gets to decide and do research based on their family and their needs as to what they want to do.”

As I documented nearly six years ago, in actuality Mayim Bialik is heavily into all manner of woo. So into woo is she that she has been a celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network. What is the Holistic Moms Network? Actually, the name should say it all to you. Picture the sort of organization that would name itself the Holistic Moms Network, turn it up to 11, and then multiply it by another 11, and you have an idea. The Holistic Moms Network is a cesspit of “natural” parenting, where “natural” apparently means embracing every form of “natural” woo known to humans. Not surprisingly, the Holistic Moms Network is also antivaccine, just like Mayim Bialik.

Then there’s Kristin Cavallari. Let’s just say that she’s not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, the sharpest knife in the drawer, or whatever metaphor you like to use for stupid. Clearly, she buys into all manner of antivaccine nonsense:

Kristin Cavallari stirred up controversy when she admitted during an appearance on Fox News that she hadn’t vaccinated son Camden. “At the end of the day, I’m just a mom. I’m trying to make the best decision for my kid,” the reality star and shoe designer (who also has son Jaxon and daughter Saylor with football star husband Jay Cutler) said when she later defended her decision on Watch What Happens Live. “There are very scary statistics out there regarding what is in vaccines and what they cause—asthma, allergies, ear infections, all kinds of things. And we feel like we’re making the best decision for our kids.”

No. No, you’re not. You’re leaving them open to potentially deadly infectious dieseases. Those “scary statistics” are not real statistics at all, but made-up or exaggerated “statistics” spread by the antivaccine movement, and Cavallari fell for them completely.

Another thing that annoyed me about this article is that even some of the pro-vaccine celebrity moms had a tendency to paint their decision to vaccinate as hard, oh so terribly hard. For instance:

Deciding to vaccinate her sons wasn’t easy for Julie Bowen. “I cried making the decision, I’m not gonna lie,” the Modern Family star told WebMD. “But I spoke with my sister, who is an infectious disease doctor—and then also with my own doctor and my pediatrician, who said to me: ‘By not vaccinating your children, you’re putting them at serious risk.’ That was it for me. Once I made that decision, there were a few tears, mostly mine—but now all three boys are on regular vaccination schedules.” The actress even became the national spokesperson for the “Faces of Influenza” public awareness campaign about the importance of getting an annual flu shot.

While I’m glad that Bowen ultimately decided that vaccinating her child is the way to go and listened to her sister, who clearly knows what’s best with respect to vaccinating children, at the same time I can’t help but be a bit irritated at how her decision was portrayed as a horribly difficult one. It shouldn’t be, and having a celebrity portray it as such is not helpful, as we can see with the case of Kendra Wilson:

Kendra Wilkinson was very conflicted about whether or not to vaccinate son Hank when he was a baby. “Vaccinations are a controversial topic and it can be really confusing whether or not vaccinations are a good or bad thing for your child,” the reality star (who’s also mom to daughter Alijah) explained on her website. “But after having him I had to make a quick decision—I mean the paper was right in front me after giving birth—and I had to check yes or no and I checked yes. I felt it was better for me and better for him. It was a hard decision to make.”

Why was it a hard decision to make? It shouldn’t have been. It wouldn’t have been, were it not for the pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies spread by the antivaccine movement. In fact, there’s a lesson there. The only reason vaccinating is a difficult choice for some parents is because of the misinformation spread by the antivaccine movement, as I have discussed many times. Absent that, it would be (and should be) a no-brainer.

In fact, I can’t help but ask: Who the hell cares what celebrities think about vaccines? They are not experts. They know no more than the average parent. Yet, here we see them being held up as being worth listening to. Never mind that what we are seeing here is false equivalence at its worst.

Really. Who cares what celebrities think about vaccines?