Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why is the public health community losing to Jenny McCarthy?

There is word of a huge pertussis epidemic in the state of Washington. So far this year, there have been 640 reported cases through March compared to 94 cases during the same period in 2011. If my math is correct, that's a 649% increase, which is quite possibly more than even Apple's stock increased over the same period.* Per a report in the Seattle Times, if the trend continues, this would equal an outbreak not seen since the 1940's! The article also contains a telling anecdote describing a mother who passed pertussis to her one-month old infant, who turned blue and had to spend a week in the ICU and a month in the hospital.

This outbreak isn't limited to Washington. In 2010, whooping cough killed 10 infants and infected over 9,000 in California, which was the state's worst outbreak in 60 years.

Why is this happening?  I won't go into all of the reasons, as we've had plenty of posts on the topic over the years. I'll just refer you to Red Sox fan and PLoS co-founder Michael Eisen's tweet from yesterday. In an earlier tweet he mentioned that 34% of the parents in his daughter's school don't fully vaccinate their kids.  I agree that this is all Jenny McCarthy's fault and anyone who listens to her or gives her a voice.  It is clear that after years of neglect, the public health community is so weak that it can't even compete with Jenny 'Effin' McCarthy.

*By law, nothing is allowed a larger percent increase than Apple's stock.


  1. In 2009, my then 2 yr old son regressed from being bilingual to being non-verbal and grunting. At that age, kids are always getting vaccines and yes he was a few weeks off from some shots. As you can imagine, he was diagnosed with autism shortly thereafter. When the time came for his scheduled vaccines, even I --an ID doctor that had advised families many times to disregard the connection between vaccines & autism-- found myself questioning (at least for a whole day or maybe even a couple of days) the decision of giving him more vaccines. After reviewing all the published literature AGAIN and concluding AGAIN that there was no scientific basis for the vaccine-autism association, we decided to vaccinate him. After years of intensive behavioral therapy, he is now at the level of his typically developing peers.
    Let me tell you why Jenny McCarthy is so convincing...because she touches into the raw emotions, fears, and guilt of parents. There is no rationale there. Remember that randomization, sample size, study design, none of that matters for concerned parents. Anecdotes are just as strong for these parents than the best randomized control trial!!
    I completely agree with your concern about whooping cough but that is just too logical to defeat the fear of a disease happening in 1 out of every 80(?) kids.

  2. Thanks for your comment and sharing your story. The autism epidemic touches many of us. It's sad that we are adding a new infectious disease epidemic without any hope of reducing the incidence of autism. It seems that if autism was linked to unleaded gasoline chemicals, the oil industry would have a multifaceted campaign and effectively convince the public to still buy gas. If we had a well-funded public health system, we could do the same for vaccines. Sadly, we don't. I wonder what the tipping point will be?

  3. Hmmm...we need celebrity there anyone in public health who is an ex-Playmate with a big mouth and a book deal....

    I think the tipping point will (sadly) come when we have both a raging *insert communicable, vaccine-preventable childhood disease with significant mortality/morbidity here* epidemic with continued increases in autism diagnoses among non-vaccinated children.

  4. There are now plenty of parents here in Washington State who are afraid of this epidemic. That is helping to get the message across!