Getting down to science on the most vocal anti-vaxxers
| Newsweek: Anti-vax myths have been around for centuries – at least since British doctor Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine in the 1790s.
And they persist even into our so-called scientific era:
Following a 30 percent rise in worldwide measles outbreaks, in 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) named the anti-vaccine movement among the worst health threats facing humanity.
To help cut through the noise, we examine prominent anti-vaccine claims to uncover whether there’s scientific evidence supporting them.
Myth #1. Vaccinations cause autism.
One of the most prominent claims of anti-vaxxers is that vaccines are linked to autism.
A child on the autistic spectrum can be diagnosed as young as 12 to 18 months—around the same time, the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is administered—leading some parents to assume a causal relationship.
Most prominently, British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a shocking study in The Lancet in 1998 linking the MMR vaccine to autism and bowel disease.
The link between autism and vaccines is repeated often, including by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who told Oprah in 2007 that vaccines triggered her son’s autism …
The facts: In 2004, the Sunday Times reported on financial conflicts of interest by Wakefield, who was allegedly planning to launch a company that would profit from the boom in medical tests and lawsuits that would follow his report.
After it appeared his research was fraudulent, Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their support and his study was retracted by The Lancet.
“The statements in the paper were utterly false,” editor Richard Horton told The Guardian, “I feel I was deceived.”
In 2009, a British administrative court ruled:
“there is now no respectable body of opinion which supports the hypothesis, that MMR vaccine and autism and enterocolitis [a devastating intestinal disease affecting premature infants] are causally linked.”
Wakefield’s medical license was revoked a year later.
Myth #2. Vaccines don’t really work.
Some vaccine skeptics maintain there’s no guarantee a vaccination will prevent against disease.
People who are vaccinated still contract the virus, sometimes more of them than unvaccinated people.
The facts: No medical treatment is 100 percent effective, and that’s true of vaccines, too.
The flu vaccine is on the lower end of effectiveness—it will probably only immunize you against the flu about half the time.
But two doses of the measles vaccine have a 99 percent efficacy rate …
Myth #3. Vaccines contain toxins.
In addition to a version of the virus it’s fighting against, a vaccine usually contains preservatives and other chemicals that keep it stable.
Thiomersal, a preservative historically used in tetanus and diphtheria vaccines, contains trace amounts of mercury.
And adjuvants, which help the immune system respond to a vaccine, often have aluminum in them. This has led vaccine skeptics to claim vaccines are filled with toxic substances. Read more. (Coverage continues below … )
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Jenny McCarthy quotes:
“No I don’t have a sex tape and I’m kind of upset that I don’t. You know why? ‘Cause I’m really good.”
“My philosophy of dating is to just fart right away.”
“Information on how to heal autism and how to possibly delay vaccines or prevent autism shouldn’t come from me. It should come from the medical establishment.”
“When I was a little girl, rocking my little dolls, I remember thinking I would be the world’s best mom, and so far I’ve done it.”
Jennifer Ann McCarthy is an American anti-vaccine activist, actress, model, television host, author, and screenwriter.
She began her career in 1993 as a nude model for Playboy magazine and was later named their Playmate of the Year.
McCarthy then parlayed her Playboy fame into a television and film acting career starting as a co-host on the MTV game show Singled Out, then some eponymous sitcoms, as well as films. She is a former co-host of the ABC talk show The View.
McCarthy has written books about parenting and has promoted research into environmental causes and alternative medical treatments for autism.
She has promoted the disproven idea that vaccines cause autism, a view unsupported by medical consensus, and she believes that chelation therapy helped cure her son of autism.
McCarthy has been described as “the nation’s most prominent purveyor of anti-vaxxer ideology”. Her claims to the contrary have been met with skepticism.