The Worst Things About Parenting, No. 22: Jenny McCarthy

One of the biggest lightning rods in parenting talk these days is vaccinations. It’s a very serious issue with a variety of viewpoints, one of which should be ignored entirely: Jenny McCarthy’s.

I’m well aware that wisdom can come in surprising forms, but there is none in the plastic shell of Jenny McCarthy. Yet, this woman spurred a nationwide movement to avoid basic vaccinations for infants. Further, she believed that these vaccinations cause autism (as of last year, it’s been suggested that her son doesn’t have — and never had — autism). And that’s fine for her to believe. But how in the world did she convince parents across the country to believe the same?

I’ve seen the film “Baseketball.” Dozens of others have also. That should really be the end of this discussion.

There are so many parents and individuals whose voices maybe aren’t as loud, but should probably get more attention in the vaccination debate. Perhaps doctors, Rosalynn Carter or other parents should have more credibility. Instead, McCarthy and/or her PR team were on talk shows everywhere pushing her theory, giving an incredible amount of publicity (and implicitly, credibility) to her far-fetched idea.

Meanwhile, my belief that robots will take over the world goes unnoticed, so maybe it’s my jealousy that makes me dislike McCarthy.

[It should be noted, that if we were to rank the social influence of hot chicks from the 90s, McCarthy’s a surprising No. 1. She just edges out Rachel Hunter, whose appearance as Stacy’s mom was something of a social commentary on younger men-older women relationships, I suppose. Poor Courtney Thorne-Smith, well, at least she’s still working.]

Regardless, due to McCarthy’s sway, we’re starting to see some serious impact from a lack of vaccinations in kids. This country is in the middle of its largest infant measles outbreak in 15 years. At least 220 measles cases have been reported in 2011, more than three times the usual figure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 87 percent of those cases were in unvaccinated individuals. And whooping cough cases are surprisingly high as well, especially in California. Now, according to the journal Pediatrics, more than one in 10 parents selectively delay or skip doctor-recommended vaccinations.

The foundational study, the one Jenny and her followers so heavily relied upon, has been discredited. New research is available, and clearly suggests that most vaccinations have a health benefit to kids. So unless Singled Out is coming back (I hope it does), no one should really be listening to Jenny McCarthy for a while.

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  • Wendy Nielsen

    I respect what you’ve written here but I have to totally disagree with most of what you’ve said.  With the exception of “Singled Out” coming back to TV.  I liked that show too.

  • Kathy

    Great blog post!

  • Vinobaby

    Talk about a lightning rod topic. You want to get into a fight at the playground, just bring up the topic of vaccinations. Claws and sharp tongues will come out in seconds.

    And Rachel Hunter has now totally fallen into the land of has-beens. Did you not watch “Swamp Volcano” on SyFy Channel the other night? Bad. BAD.

    • ChiMomWriter

      I think it all fell apart for Rachel when she chose Rod Stewart over Kip Winger.

  • Mama Sully

    My beef with Jenny McCarthy is how many times she got to be on Oprah talking about “The Secret” and how great her relationship was with Jim Carrey.  Puke.

  • OneStrongMama

    Parents were concerned about vaccine safety long before Jenny McCarthy got interested in the subject. She just gave them a voice. If parents made decisions based on what she had to say, alone, shame on them, not her.  I think it’s our responsibility as parents to be knowledgeable about what goes into our children’s bodies, and to be able to say “no, thank you”, even to something coming from a doctor. 

  • bywordofmouth

    and here all this time i thought her greatest volume of work was baywatch … 

  • Angela

    It’s such a polarizing topic in many ways, and I’m actually sorry she got involved in it. In all likelihood she did it from a good place, really believing she was advocating for her son, but I do feel like she muddied the waters.

    I completely believe in full vaccinations, but I did space my kids’ shots out so I guess I see both sides of it a little. I don’t have a special needs child, so I may not have the “right” to say this, but I still feel that the benefit of vaccinations outweigh the possible risks.

  • Dawn Barnsdale

    Great post- however- well known and respected Dr. Bob Sears advocates for spacing vaccines out. That is exactly what I tell anyone who asks. And as the parent of a child who I believe was possibly vaccine injured- I hope is parents do their research, ask their doctor about  an alternate schedule.  As for polio- if you have a child, living in the U.S. they are most likely protected by “herd immunity”- polio was on it’s way out when Salk invented the vaccine- which then got rid of it completely.  

    So although I believe Jenny McCarthy’s heart was in the right place- her methods were less than ideal.  I would also like to know just who is speculating that her child did not have autism? 

    Also- please look up Hannah Poling- a court of law ruled that her autism was caused by vaccines which exacerbated a mitochondrial disorder. So while autism may not be the ROOT cause of SOME cases of autism- it certainly seems that, much like flu related illness, preservatives and poisons in vaccines ( like formaldehyde, aluminum and aborted fetal cells) can make a pre-existing condition much, much worse. Until infant screening can be done to rule out any other issues- this issue will not be put to rest. 

    • Xavier

      aborted fetal cells!? Are you kidding me? Please link to something factual that notes that as an ingredient in commonly-recommended US vaccines.

    • smartestblonde

      And yet, my guess is that any parent of an autistic child would rather have that child alive with autism than dead from a preventable disease.  Vaccinate your damn kids!

  • ChiMomWriter

    Regardless of what your opinion is of vaccinations, I thought this comment had an interesting perspective. It was posted on the Facebook fan page for Mary Tyler Mom, who shared our post with her readers. The response:

    “I believe vaccinations are a
    community responsibility….We vaccinate for those who REALLY CAN NOT.
    We vaccinate for those who have immune issues due to illness or
    treatment for an illness. Those who chose to not vaccinate but still
    BENEFIT from others who do….in my opinion, are completely selfish. No
    one wants to get shots for their kids….or nurse them after…..we feel
    sad as moms to know that we cause them to feel bad for a bit after the
    shots…but its our RESPONSIBILITY as a COMMUNITY to stop illness and
    prevent it for those that REALLY need protection. To piggy back off of
    those who do vaccinate is not responsible or KIND.”

  • Jstarwright14

    So, Louis ck has this great bit where he talks about flying, basically anytime anyone gets on a plane and it goes into the air every single passenger should be awestruck going “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, we’re flying!!” point is roughly that we’ve become so used to this technology we’ve lost our ability to see how amazing it is. Unfortunately I think at this point the same point holds for our sense of medicine. Most people could not tell you what diptheria causes. They don’t know that haemophilus influenza was previously the most common cause of meningitis and epiglottitis, or how commonly these illnesses caused young children to die horribly. We have never seen children crippled by polio, and cases of tetanus are virtually non-existent. So now, we’ve begun to see the illnesses they present as nuisances rather than life threats and some people seem to have developed the sense that vaccines are optional. If you are choosing not to vaccinate your child please at least research the illnesses you are choosing to blow off. Diphtheria, haemophilus influenza, even pertussis. Just run it through a quick google search. It’d probably also be good to google pre-vaccination infant mortality rates (9000 deaths from pertussis annually prior to vaccines. Side note 10 children dead from an outbreak in California just recently) then google “emergency room sepsis workup” see exactly what you’re putting your child through the first time they spike a fever if they’re not vaccinated. In regards to the vaccine/autism connection, possibly no single issue has been more closely evaluated by the medical community, and no link has ever been proven. My beautiful children have had all their vaccines. If you’d like to come and meet them, you’re welcome to. (if you want to suggest there’s anything wrong with them, we can talk in the parking lot…) the single study suggesting a link and yes, it is only one and it only contained 12 kids, in the meantime, multiple well conducted studies have followed thousand of children and shown that this just doesn’t pan out. I won’t try to discuss all the conspiracy stuff, because there’s just too much out there, but research it yourself on any respected journal or source, vaccines are totally safe. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor. Any decent pediatrician should be more than happy to discuss your fears, (your chiropractor is NOT a doctor) and if nothing else, consider vaccinating against the things that are known to be fatal. I can respect it if you font think a flu shot is necessary, but again educate yourself, know the risks. In America, we’ve come to take health for granted, much like flying. Worse yet instead of reading journals we find celebrities and listen to their opinions when we should be educating ourselves. Remember that scary news is big news, nobody gets paid for saying ten billion people get swine flu and stay in bed for one day before getting the f$”k on with their lives. We hear about the five who die. We hear about the twelve kids who may have developed autism, and even though it’s never been substantiated, the story, the fear, survives. Take care of your kids because they’re yours and whatever you do act from a place of love. But I’m not willing to gamble with my kids health over a bs rumor, and I hope i never have to see your kid here in my emergency room because of a disease that could have been prevented.

  • EpiMom

    As an epidemiologist, and a mom, I like to present vaccinations as analogous to second hand smoking (inversely, of course). Do you have the right to not vaccinate your children? In most states, yes, with some justification (usually religious beliefs). However, if you do not vaccinate your children, you are putting other children at risk. Children who cannot be vaccinated, either because they have an allergy or are immune compromised, or simply because they are too young to receive certain vaccines. This is similar to second hand smoke exposure. Do you have the right to smoke? Certainly in your own home, and in some states, you can still smoke in public places and restaurants/shops, etc. But if you don’t believe in smoking, how would you feel about a stranger smoking next to your infant/child? How would you feel if your childcare provider smoked next to your child? How is this different than if your childcare provider allowed children into that facility that are not vaccinated and your child has an allergy to egg yolks or is too young for a vaccine? The risks are just as great (see again the outbreaks of measles and whooping cough), but somehow we are more outraged by the smoking than the vaccines. Is it your right to not vaccinate your child? Maybe. But please keep your child away from my child. Just know that you are endangering the health of others with your “personal decision.” And I do not miss the days of high infant mortality due to infectious diseases. (ps: herd immunity is in deed the desired outcome of vaccinations; it also requires a high percentage of individuals to agree to vaccinate their children for it to work – the more people object, the more outbreaks we will see as herd immunity fails)

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