During a PBS Q&A session for its Nova program, Vaccines: Calling The Shots, the conversation eventually wound its way around to Jenny McCarthy. Which is to say a TV critic asked the panelists to weigh in on McCarthy, who has become the celebrity most closely associated with the vaccine debate. (McCarthy has said in interviews she is not “anti-vaccine” — she’s demanding “safe vaccines” and to “reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.” In a 2009 interview with Time, she was quoted as saying, “If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f**king measles.”)
“I made a decision that we didn’t want to go down the path that wasn’t scientifically solid,” the program’s writer/director/co-exec producer Sonya Pemberton said by way of explaining why the show makes no mention of McCarthy. “As far as I can tell, Jenny McCarthy hasn’t published any scientific papers, and doesn’t have a degree” in the field.
“I think Jenny McCarthy has done a lot of harm and continues to do a lot of harm,” added Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “I think she has put children at risk” by failing to acknowledge what the data clearly says, Singer charged. And, “when confronted with the data, her response is ‘I don’t care’ and says she knows in her heart when her son received the MMR [Measles, Mumps, Rubella] vaccine, the light left her son’s eyes and he became autistic. That’s very compelling. … it gets you on Oprah,” Singer continued. “What Jenny likes to say is ‘Show me the study that proves that vaccines don’t cause autism.’ There will never be a study — you cannot prove a negative,” Singer said. “She continues to get a lot of air time for a lot of ideas that are putting children in harm’s way.”
Another panelist took issue with TV programs that have featured McCarthy on the subject. Finally, Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease specialist, got asked about McCarthy. “We’re just friends,” he joked. Then he dove in with the others: “She’s a celebrity and typically when celebrities they use that platform to do good. She sadly has used that platform to do harm. ” On the bright side, he noted, it’s maybe not bad that McCarthy has become the celebrity spokesperson for that position. “You don’t want Meryl Streep,” He said. “I don’t think [McCarthy] is seen as having a tremendous amount of gravitas.”
We reached out to McCarthy for comment; a representative sent us an op-ed piece she wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times in which she referenced that ’09 Time interview; she declined to comment further.