As of February 2019, there are 50 confirmed cases measles in Washington State. There are an additional five cases in Texas and nationwide the total stands at 80 cases, meaning it’s very, very likely that the total number of cases reported in 2019 will exceed the 372 cases reported in 2018. Why is measles, which was effectively eradicated in the United States in 2000, on the march? Because so-called anti-vaxxer parents are refusing to use a vaccine that decades of research proves works while actually offering non-immunological benefits, including community immunity which protects people who cannot get vaccinated. Who could have seen this coming? TV producer Derek Bartholomaus, who started the infamous website JennyMcCarthyBodyCount.com in 2009 after the famed actress espoused radical and irresponsible views on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Over six years, Bartholomaus tallied 152,763 illnesses and 9,028 preventable deaths.
He didn’t stop because the deaths stopped. He stopped because he became a father and because he gave up.
Meanwhile, the anti-vaxxer movement gained momentum and Jenny McCarthy suffered no repercussions for providing debunked and discredited scientists with a massive platform. McCarthy continued to tell the world that her son Evan’s autism was caused by vaccines laced with dangerous chemicals. How did McCarthy reach her scientific conclusion? She told Oprah it was “mommy instinct.” She had a bad feeling before the MMR shot.
Today, she hosts a regular radio show on SiriusXM and serves as a panelist on the hit show The Masked Singer — and children in Washington are suffering.
Fatherly spoke with Bartholomaus about Jenny McCarthy, the anti-vaccine movement’s body count, and why, in an era of celebrity scandal, the people that have caused profound harm to children have yet to be held to account.
McCarthy gave the anti-vax movement a very prominent face. How culpable do you think celebrities like her are for the deaths of children?
It’s tricky. Do I think people have responsibility for their words and actions? Absolutely. But I don’t know where the threshold is where it becomes legally actionable.
Let’s start with the most obvious question: Why does Jenny McCarthy still have a career?
If someone makes a company money, they are going to stay by them. Just look at R. Kelly. It was only two weeks ago that his record label dropped him because public pressure reached a point where they had to. No one is going to do it on their own. I wish people did have stronger moral fiber at times. But companies are motivated by press and money.
Sounds like you’re making a strong case to boycott her.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Those sorts of protests and grassroots organizing have worked in other ways. Louis CK isn’t a voice in Secret Life of Pets any more.
Why do you think people choose to listen to anti-vax celebrities like Jenny McCarthy?
There’s a historical trend in America of individualism and individual freedom. They consider vaccination a personal choice. You try to explain that getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect children, but people around them who are too young, or too old, or too sick to be vaccinated. And parents don’t care. There is a disconnect. You can’t apply logic or rationality to someone who isn’t thinking logically or rationally.
I suppose that rationality and parenting aren’t always natural bedfellows.
Especially with children. It becomes emotional. It becomes what feels right. Does it feel right to see your child scream and cry while somebody puts a needle into them? No. You don’t want your child to feel that pain. But you have to understand the larger picture. There’s the possibility of them feeling so much more pain, or worse, death if they don’t have this pain that will be gone in five minutes.
Would it help the situation if Jenny McCarthy or people like her walked back their views?
I think it would be great for any of these anti-vaccine celebrities to do that. But it’s also really nice to see pro-vax celebrities like Kristen Bell. She said she would not let friends hold her baby unless they were vaccinated. And I think that is awesome.
Did the vaccination issue become more concrete or did you become more passionate about it after you had kids?
It’s hard to say that I became more passionate because I stopped updating site. My children took priority.
Of course! How did running the site affect your life?
About six months after running the site I realized I hadn’t had any vaccinations since childhood. I talked to my doctor and realized there are a whole bunch of things for which vaccines didn’t exist back then. I was, like, I’ll have those, please. As a point of fun, if there’s a choice in flu shots I always ask for the thimerosal [the ingredient many anti-vaxxers claim causes autism] one.