Vaccines are a touchy subject. While the trend is turning towards being passionately against them, others still teeter between comfort in the decision to ultimately have their children vaccinated, feeling the pros outweigh the cons. While we respect our anti-vax readers opinions, here is another perspective from a Mom you’d least expect it from. Liskula Cohen is a progressive activist, attachment parent, and vocally anti gmo/ pro plant-based eating, so when she made the decision to vaccinate her child, it wasn’t an easy one. Here’s her story;
I’ve never met Jenny McCarthy, but I’m certainly familiar with her crusade against vaccines. For better or worse, we live in a society where celebrities can develop large followings and convince millions of people to make major life decisions based on their advice. When they use that influence to spread credible information about important issues, they perform a valuable public service. On the other hand, when they push positions that have been discredited by the scientific community, they aren’t just wasting an opportunity to do good, but are being dangerously irresponsible.
Like many expectant mothers, I felt quite vulnerable when I was pregnant. Consequently, when a friend who’d had triplets told me that she blamed vaccines for causing one of her daughters to became autistic while her two sisters did not, I became afraid. Because I didn’t have any reliable statistics of my own, I began reading blog posts – too many, as it turned out. By the time my child was born and due to be vaccinated, I was scared stiff. While McCarthy herself hadn’t made me feel this way, the anti-vaccination agenda that had been largely popularized (although she has recently stopped calling it “anti-vaccine,” which I’ll address later) through her campaign had reached me through someone I trusted.
Then I did something I wish all anti-vaccination advocates would do; I looked at the science.
For one thing, I found that the entire anti-vaccine movement began with a paper published by a scientist named Andrew Wakefield in 1998. It is worth noting that a year earlier, Wakefield had filed a patent for a new measles vaccine that he hoped would replace the existing one. Despite this obvious conflict of interest, Wakefield’s article presented a study that alleged a link between the MMR vaccine and various gastrointestinal and developmental disorders (including autism). His argument has since then been completely discredited: One scholar found that Wakefield had manipulated the data used in his study; ten of the thirteen scientists who contributed to Wakefield’s paper have withdrawn their work; the journal which first published the article has since then retracted it; and an investigation launched by the UK’s General Medical Panel determined that Wakefield had not only reached his conclusions “dishonestly and irresponsibly,” but had performed tests on children that weren’t in their best clinical interest and showed “callous disregard for the distress and pain” they would suffer.
As if that hadn’t been persuasive enough, I found that the established scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that immunizations have not been linked to autism, from studies published in Public Library of Science One and The Journal of Pediatrics to the positions asserted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, many parents are predisposed to be suspicious of the scientific establishment, allowing McCarthy to continue spreading Wakefield’s erroneous message. As a result, more than 130,000 preventable illnesses have been spread since 2007, with almost 1,400 of them resulting in deaths.
Parents are encouraged to use the regular vaccine schedule, which has been approved by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Although it has not been studied or approved by public health groups, another alternative is the Dr. Sears alternative vaccine schedule, which Sears explains is meant to alleviate the fears of parents still somewhat swayed by McCarthy’s rhetoric by spreading shots over a longer period of time. “If some of the theoretical problems with vaccines are real, this schedule circumvents most of them.” Sears writes. “If the problems aren’t real, then the only drawback is the extra time, effort, and cost for the additional doctor’s office visits.” After talking with my daughter’s pediatrician, I chose the Sears slow schedule (which she had used for her own four children), happy that I had combined my own judgment and instincts with the opinion of a qualified medical professional.
Indeed, I am hardly a shill for Big Pharm. I’m an Attachment Parent, exclusively breast fed my daughter for a year, still baby wear, and co-slept for a year. In addition to traditional medicine, I also use natural medicinal and homeopathic practices. When it comes to my daughter’s body, I rely on good common sense as much as possible. That’s why, even though I’m still somewhat nervous about vaccines, I remember that the thought of losing my daughter scares me far more.
I am not writing any of this to attack McCarthy personally. Recently she has made efforts to rehabilitate her image, such as a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed last month in which she declared that she is “in fact, ‘pro-vaccine’,” is “wrongly branded as ‘anti-vaccine’,” and – per a Time Magazine quote of hers from 2009 – is simply “demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.” Of course, she omitted the next line of the quote from that interview, in which she declared that “If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the fucking measles.” Even though she is admitting that vaccines are important, she has yet to retract her longstanding assertion that there is a link between certain vaccines and autism… one that, it cannot be repeated enough, has not been scientifically proved.
In short, I don’t doubt that McCarthy only wants what she believes is best not only for her own children, but for children everywhere. The problem is that the science shows her inaccuracies are a public health risk. Already lives have been damaged, even lost, because of that pseudo-scientific campaign. I can’t imagine how terribly she will feel if an outbreak occurs because of people who protest, “But Jenny McCarthy said I was doing the right thing!”
Matthew Rozsa, the co-author of this piece, has autism and has written about it extensively.
By Liskula Cohen with Matthew Rozsa
Matthew Rozsa is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University and a political columnist (PolicyMic, The Allentown Morning Call, The Newark Star-Ledger). He has provided expert commentary on Huff Post Live and Channel 69 news (Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania area).
Liskula Cohen is a Canadian-born former model who has worked in New York, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and Sydney, among other cities. She is a feminist and loves every second of raising her amazing daughter as a single mother.