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As the United States faces the worst measles outbreak in 25 years, celebrity anti-vaxxers must be held accountable for their role in creating it. The anti-vaccination movement is one of the biggest unnecessary threats we face in 2019. And celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. helped cause it.
There have been over 800 cases of measles in 23 states this year. This is a disease the country thought was eliminated in 2000. However, in 1998, former doctor Andrew Wakefield published his fraudulent study linking autism to the measles vaccine. This study, and those who endorsed it, helped turn the elimination of disease into a political issue.
The World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top ten global health threats in 2019. Vaccine hesitancy, they believe, is as great a risk to the world as HIV and climate change.
The culture in America, influenced by the unprecedented attention given to celebrities, is egocentric. Although parents on both sides of the issue would do anything to keep their children healthy, the anti-vaccination movement reflects the narcissism that exists in American culture.
The success of vaccinations is based on protecting the community, not just one child. Some children are medically unable to receive vaccinations and others are simply too young. When a child is vaccinated, it is not just for them. It is for their newborn sibling or their classmate fighting cancer.
Ethical issues have always surrounded celebrity endorsements. Celebrities hold an unhealthy influence over society. It does not matter if it is a credit card or an island music festival, celebrities promote products because they are paid to do so. The danger with celebrity endorsements comes when people base their decisions heavily on what their favorite Kardashian or YouTuber says they do.
Vaccines are not a brand or a product. It is irresponsible and dangerous for anyone to treat them as such. Vaccines save millions of lives every year. While celebrities can and should have their own opinions regarding vaccines, this does not mean that they should be held up as vaccine experts in society’s eyes.
Jenny McCarthy, an actress and former Playboy model, became a passionate anti-vaccination advocate after her son was diagnosed with autism. Despite having no medical background, she wrote several books about the disorder. These books are reckless and potentially dangerous, even if a majority of the information in them come from credible sources.
McCarthy does not see herself as anti-vaccines, but rather pro-safe vaccines. Because of her endorsement, the false theory that a healthy child goes to get a vaccine and comes out with autism received unwarranted attention. People listen to her not because she is a scientist or a pediatrician, but because she is well-known.
McCarthy has spoken about how the internet, specifically Google, was her preliminary information source on autism, not doctors. The internet is an amazing technological advance, but this is one of its worst drawbacks: the spread of misinformation.
Fake News and Vaccines
Anyone with access to the internet can post their personal views, regardless of whether it is an informed opinion or not. Celebrities often bring anecdotal evidence to their endorsement of the anti-vaccination movement. Anecdotal evidence, while wonderful, must be supported by information produced from a credible source, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unfortunately, sometimes people with proper credentials, like Andrew Wakefield, intentionally create fake news. In 2008, following the retraction of his study, Wakefield began visiting Minnesota to spread the false idea that vaccines are dangerous. Minnesota was specifically targeted because, outside of Somalia, Minneapolis has the largest population of Somalis in the world.
The arrival of Wakefield and his anti-vaccination campaign helped drive a community to stop vaccinating their children out of fear. In nine years, the percentage of measles-vaccinated Somali-Minnesotan children dropped from 92 to 45 percent. This steep decline lead to a 2017 measles outbreak in the state that ultimately hospitalized 22 people.
The Somali immigrant population in Minnesota is again at risk in the 2019 epidemic. Even if a state has a high vaccination rate, individual communities within the state can have dangerously low coverage, such as the Orthodox Jewish community in New York.
The endorsement of false vaccine narratives by uncredible celebrities and discredited doctors is dangerous. Those who have no medical background have no right to be educating anyone on something this important. Vaccines are safe, effective and save lives. This is a truth doctors stand behind because science backs it up.
Anti-Vaxxers are not Bad People
The assumption that all anti-vaxxers are inherently bad is unfair. They are parents who love their children and are willing to do anything to keep them safe. Many parents today do not remember a time when diseases like polio and whooping cough were common throughout the United States.
Many celebrities who recklessly endorse anti-vaxxers, like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., do a lot of good for the world. This past week in Politico, RFK Jr.’s niece and siblings voiced their disappointment in his anti-vaccination beliefs. While he has helped strengthen the call for environmental protection, his work to falsely debunk vaccinations is detrimental.
There is great power in RFK Jr.’s name. His father, Robert F. Kennedy, along with his two uncles John and Ted, worked hard to advance health care. They championed vaccines and helped create a generation that does not have to fear polio. It is sad to see their legacies tarnished by RFK Jr.’s blind belief in false information.
Americans must not place their faith in celebrities who do not realize that their name does not give them the right to promote fake ideas. When it comes to medical decisions, trust needs to be in science and doctors. While parents have a right to decide their child’s vaccine schedule, the only other person who should provide input is a doctor.