martes, 16 de julio de 2013

ABC's hiring of Jenny McCarthy: a decision that could cost lives

By choosing Jenny McCarthy to be a host on "The View", ABC made a decision that could end up costing lives--even worse, the lives of children.

Jenny McCarthy believes that vaccines caused her son to be autistic. Never mind that it's not clear that he was actually autistic, none of the claims she has made about vaccines and autism are backed up by, um, any medical evidence. But that doesn't stop Jenny McCarthy from making those claims very publicly. She is a supporter of Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor whose study linking the MMR vaccine and autism was found to be based on fraudulent data. The fact that he has been discredited by the medical community and lost his license doesn't stop her from supporting him.

Vaccines save lives. So many fewer children get sick from polio, diphtheria, measles, chicken pox, tetanus, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable illnesses. It's getting so that the latest generation of doctors haven't even seen some of these illnesses, these illnesses that used to be common--and sometimes kill. We have done, and continue to do, extensive research on vaccines and their safety. The consensus of the medical community--who care deeply about health, science and safety--is that for the overwhelming majority of people, vaccines are safe.

But that doesn't stop Jenny McCarthy from saying vaccines aren't safe. And the problem is, people listen to celebrities. They shouldn't--it's not like Jenny McCarthy has any kind of scientific training or expertise--but they do. Even though most people realize that celebrities aren't scientists, celebrities get our attention. And when they say things that scare us, well, it can be hard to shake. As my friend Seth Mnookin, the author of the great book The Panic Virus says, it's really hard to unscare people.

Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, including Jenny McCarthy. But ABC should know better. ABC knows that people listen to celebrities--and they know Jenny McCarthy's position on vaccines. They had to know that hiring her, and giving her a bigger platform, could end up causing some parents not to vaccinate. 

Have we really sunk so low as a society that ratings, and money, matter more than the health and safety of children?

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