The ReThink Blog

Starting from scratch in politics and science


Jenny McCarthy Murders Children: the Facts Behind Herd Immunity and the Anti-Vaccination Movement's Body Count

Pertussis Victim: Rachel
This is Rachel, a newborn with pertussis

Pertussis, more commonly known as Whooping Cough, is a particularly nasty disease. It starts benignly as nothing more than an upper respiratory infection with a mild cough that lasts for around a week or two. This presentation is hardly extreme enough for the average person to seek out medical help or take antibiotics, but unfortunately, during this mild stage (known as the catarrhal stage), the victim is at his or her most contageous.

The second stage of the illness is much, much worse. Called the paroxysmal stage, this period of the disease is marked by a cough so violent and spasmotic that it often causes pulled muscles, hemorrhages around the eyes, strained ear drums, and in extreme cases, broken ribs. In between fits of this intense cough, victims tend to vomit, get dehydrated, and suffer other unpleasant complications such as encephalopathy, seizures, pneumonia, and pulmonary hypertension. Newborns are particularly vulnerable to pertussis, with an infant mortality rate of over 3% and the risks of permanent disability reaching upwards of 65%.

The scariest thing about the disease, however, is that, despite the fact that it is almost completely preventable by vaccination, it is on the rise in America. There are a number of possible reasons for the increase, all of which probably contribute to one another. One of these possible reasons is the startling rise in parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

Andrew Wakefield
Andrew Wakefield (on left): the doctor who faked a study about vaccines and autism that, though thoroughly debunked, has rallied a whole new generation of fear-mongerers and lunatics to protest the existence of vaccines

The anti-vaccination movement is hardly a new phenomenon; ever since the vaccine was first invented, somebody was undoubtably afraid of it. However, in the past few decades, the movement has gained considerable traction throughout the world. In the last few years, it has exploded in America thanks to celebrity spokesperson Jenny McCarthy and her willing microphones in the media (Oprah, Larry King, and Time, for example). Since this new popularity for the anti-vaccination cause, there has been an increase in the number of outbreaks of several preventable childhood diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, and pertussis.

Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccinationists don't seem persuaded by the fact that their claims have been repeatedly debunked by the medical and scientific community. If it is proved that one of their claims is untrue, they either ignore the new evidence or come up with a newer claim to justify their rabid attack on vaccines. I've covered the fallacy of the anti-vaccination logic in a separate essay and I've even gone so far as to name Jenny McCarthy the second biggest idiot of 2008, but that was before she was quoted as saying the following:

I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism.
In other words, Jenny McCarthy has no remorse for being indirectly responsible for a possible rise in childhood illnesses and death throughout the country. She actually believes that it is the fault of modern medicine and pharmaceutical companies, despite a complete lack of evidence to that effect and her own lack of medical expertise. If your child gets sick or dies because she has spread her anti-vaccination message to the masses, that's just collateral damage, and while she's sad about it, she is more than willing to pay that price.

Jenny McCarthy
Would you trust this woman to give you sound medical advice?

Jenny McCarthy isn't just a misinformed idiot or misguided parent of a disabled child; she is a murderer.

Lest you think this is a social darwinian thing and parents who don't vaccinate their children deserve to see their children get sick and die, consider the concept of herd immunity. For all virulent diseases, there is a threshold at which, if a certain percentage of the population is immune, the disease can't thrive long enough to spread.

Pertussis, for example, has a relatively high threshold of 92-94%. Unfortunately, it is impossible to vaccinate everybody, as there are those who have a compromized immune system, have had a recent organ transplant, or for whom the vaccine simply won't take. On the positive side, the pertussis vaccine is all but mandatory for newborns in America today (with a new booster for teenagers). It stands to reason, therefore, that as long as we can keep the average rate of vaccination as close to 100% as possible, we can prevent outbreaks from ever threatening the helpless.

This is why the anti-vaccination movement is so dangerous. Parents who don't vaccinate their children aren't just putting their children at risk, they are also endangering other children as well as people who, for one reason or another, have been unable to receive a vaccine. The horrific pertussis, with its high herd immunity threshold of 92-94%, is just the tip of the iceberg.

By way of comparison, measles has a threshold of 83-94%, mumps is 75-86%, polio is 80-86%, diptheria is 85%, and rubella is 80-85%. Theoretically, if you extrapolate from the assumption that the anti-vaccination movement will continue to grow at a steady rate over the next decade, it would make sense that outbreaks of pertussis would come first due to its high threshold, followed by measles, mumps, and the rest of them. Since pertussis is already well on the rise, we cannot afford to let this trend continue.

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah
Jenny McCarthy is the latest star to join forces with Oprah to spread pseudoscientific hokum to sheep-like audiences throughout the world, and Oprah, like so many others, is an enthusiastic cheerleader for McCarthy's cause

Besides, if the percentage of the population that is immune to a disease is just under the herd immunity threshold, a perverse effect happens, whereby the average age and severity of infection go up. In other words, there is a point at which a vaccine could potentially cause more damage than the disease itself. The rate of infection remains low in this scenario, meaning the vaccine is still largely effective, but the people who do get infected tend to have a higher risk for complication and death.

This is a case where mainstream media has failed to show due diligence and responsibility in the face of remorseless assclowns like McCarthy exercizing their freedom of speech. McCarthy should be allowed to spout her deadly nonsense to the masses if she wants, but people like Oprah need to stress how dangerous McCarthy's opinions are and why falling victim to the anti-vaccination hysteria threatens the lives of thousands of helpless people. Instead, the people interviewing McCarthy and her ilk just nod and allow the nonsense to spread.

That nonsense is as terrifying as any virus. Please, for the sake of everyone, get your children vaccinated, or you too will be an accomplice to murder.

-e. magill 06/08/2009

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