Celebrities make good fodder for water cooler gossip, but their role in our major life decisions may be a bit more limited. For instance, Michael Douglas’s role as Gordon Gekko and George Lucas’ direction of Star Wars don’t necessary qualify them to dispense sound financial and space travel advice, respectively.
In a similar vein -- though she served as a dating doctor on MTV’s Singled Out -- model and actress Jenny McCarthy may not be the best source of medical information regarding our children’s health.
Still, as families across the country prepare for a new school year, many parents are hesitant or flat out refuse to inoculate their children over fear of unproven health risks associated with vaccination -- dangerous hype propagated by McCarthy through her celebrity status.
Although vaccines can occasionally produce minor reactions such as muscle soreness or fever, the bottom line is they help children develop immunities to many dangerous and life-threatening diseases. In fact, opponents of the former-Playboy-model-turned-anti-vaccination-advocate range from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
While some parents may have anxiety over minute risks and adverse effects associated with vaccines, the real risk exists when parents decide not to vaccinate.
Over the last century, preventable infection rates among children dropped significantly thanks to proper vaccination and eradication of once prevalent diseases. According to the CDC:
Before measles vaccine, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. Each year in the United States about 450 people died because of measles, 48,000 were hospitalized … and about 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage or deafness. Today there are only about 50 cases a year reported in the United States.
Thankfully, measles no longer circulates here or elsewhere in the western hemisphere as a result of diligent vaccination efforts. Yet, the “anti-vax” movement continues to spread fear and misinformation.
McCarthy’s campaign is indicative of a larger problem in today’s society involving what amounts to irrational fears over possible health risks. A multitude of new research studies come out each year asserting alleged health hazards without proving any causation: Alar on apples, lead laden lipsticks, and‘contaminated’ cranberries, to name just a few. It is critical that we put any alleged health risk into appropriate perspective. Parents should be sensitive to health concerns, but strive to distinguish between real and perceived risks.
Sensationalized “science” can indeed promote more harm than good. Under-vaccination can lead to outbreaks of otherwise preventable diseases. To that end, the California Department of Public Health has announced that whooping cough is now an official epidemic in California due to a rise in unvaccinated children.
Like vaccines, common science is critical to keeping our children in the pink. Remember than the next time a Hollywood star decides to weigh in on your kid’s health. If you have concerns over vaccinating your children, consult your pediatrician who can often assist in sorting through any conflicting or confusing information.