September 1, 2014

Concerns over Jenny McCarthy’s vaccine views

Should Jenny McCarthy be given a platform on “The View” for her views opposing childhood vaccination? While it’s not clear whether McCarthy, an outspoken opponent of vaccinating children, will actually address the topic when she begins her co-hosting duties in September, the decision by ABC to offer her the position has drawn widespread criticism in a variety of other media. And experts on childhood vaccination in Wisconsin are also expressing concern.

“To spread misinformation, particularly about something as significant and serious as children’s health, I think is really sad,” said Dr. Lyn Ranta, Director of Physician Affairs at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. “It’s a sad comment on where sometimes our mass media markets are.”

“When a major network does something like this, in people’s’ minds it validates her argument, it validates that she’s legitimate, and I guess in my opinion that’s certainly not the case,” said Craig Roberts, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin. “Maybe it’s more a comment on media and journalism in general, that there’s a tendency sometimes to give people what’s considered an alternative point of view, when in fact their point of view is just way off.”

Ranta said that, while in practice in the community, she became used to seeing more parents coming in with questions based on misinformation regarding vaccines. “Unfortunately some of them came in also believing that, and were sometimes unwilling to take a second look,” she said, adding that the majority of parents continue to have their children vaccinated “It’s always very important to immunize children at the appropriate age, and as young as the vaccines will actually help build protection.”

But UW’s Roberts said there have been outbreaks of preventable childhood diseases, including measles and mumps. “People are basically taking a very selfish approach of not immunizing their own children, relying on everyone else to do it to keep their children protected. This presents a real problem from a public health perspective, of allowing these infections to begin reoccurring.”

McCarthy, who has spent much of the past decade in a highly public campaign against vaccines, was named by Barbara Walkers, the creator of the popular daytime show, to succeed departing host Elisabeth Hasselbeck on “The View.”

“In my opinion, her point of view really is a sort of fringe perspective on this, it’s not really mainstream in any way,” said Roberts. “To give someone an opportunity to express a viewpoint that really has no scientific basis, it’s unfortunate.”