What I'd Say to the Latest Anti-Vaccine Celebrity
March 17, 2014
Those who know me know two things about me: I love the Chicago Bears and I love talking about the importance of vaccinations.
So when Kristin Cavallari, the wife of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and apparently a celebrity in her own right, declared in a recent interview on Fox Business with former MTV VJ Kennedy that they don't vaccinate their children, I was intrigued. And by "intrigued" I mean appalled.
And by "appalled" I mean a little sick.
I don't know either Cavallari or Cutler. Never met them, never met anyone who has. And what goes on in their home and with their children is none of my business. But as we know, not vaccinating becomes everyone's business when it's the cause of preventable diseases returning into the general population.
This map, hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations Global Health Program, shows clusters of diseases that would otherwise have been prevented through vaccination, listed year by year. What it shows is terrifying. Measles outbreaks have skyrocketed in the last few years, particularly in wealthy, educated communities that refuse vaccination thanks to parents who have "done their research." Whooping cough is back with a vengeance around the country. Rubella is ravaging eastern Europe because of groundless fears over vaccine safety. Even the mumps is making a comeback.
And while it might not affect most people who have gotten their shots, vaccine refusal puts infants and toddlers too young to get their shots at risk. It puts the elderly at risk. It puts the immunocompromised at risk. And it puts at risk anyone who hasn't gotten a booster, or got a vaccine that didn't work for whatever reason.
What vaccines do NOT do is cause autism. They don't cause autoimmune disorders. They don't paralyze people. They don't kill people — they save people. Many, many people. We know this not through frantic Googling and "mommy instinct" but by rigorous testing, clinical research and good, solid science.
But anyone reading this probably knows that already.
Like I said earlier, raising her children is not my job. But I do believe that ensuring easily preventable illness stay out of the general population is everyone's job. So here's how I'd have responded to Ms. Cavallari, based on the statements she made in her interview with Kennedy.
This is what the original exchange on Fox Business was:
Kennedy: Are you opposed to vaccines?And here's what I would say, using the same responses.
Mike: Are you opposed to vaccines?
Kristin: Ahhh...we didn't vaccinate.Mike: Oh, that's really unfortunate and puts a lot of people who can't get vaccines at risk. What led you to not vaccinate your children?
Kristin: I've read too many books about autism and the studies.Mike: First of all, I'd be curious to know what books you read. And what studies did you read? If it's the Andrew Wakefield study, the one that first linked autism and vaccination, did you know it was later retracted and judged to be a "deliberate fraud?" Were you also aware that Wakefield was stripped of his medical license because of this deliberate fraud? The studies and books you should be reading (and reading is good!!!) are the ones that show no link between autism and vaccines — because no reputable one ever has. There are lots of good books, studies and blog posts on the subject, and I'm sure it won't be hard for you to find them.
Kristin: Well, there is a pediatric group called Homestead, or...shoot...Homestead or Homefirst, — they've never vaccinated any of their children, and they haven't had one case of autism.Mike: Let me stop you there. I understand pregnancy brain. It can be kind of cute. But I would think that in this case, if you're taking advice from a "pediatric group" you'd be familiar enough with their work not to get their name confused. I couldn't find any information about a pediatric medical group in the Chicago area called "Homestead" but I did find a blurb about a pediatric group called Homefirst from the Chicago Tribune. It's run by a figure of some infamy in the vaccination wars: Dr. Mayer Eisenstein. Here's what the Tribune had to say about Homefirst:
"Homefirst Health Services, meanwhile — if that's what Cavallari meant — is a Rolling Meadows-based pediatrics practice that embraces home births and shuns vaccines. Dr. Mayer Eisenstein and his practice were the subject of a 2009 Chicago Tribune investigation that shed light on the use of potentially dangerous alternative autism treatments. On the Homefirst website, Eisenstein maintains that "personal religious convictions, not scientific studies, are the main reasons, upon which to base your vaccination decision."Here's a link to the Chicago Tribune story on Eisenstein. As you'll see, he advocates for many dangerous and unproven treatments for autism, was sanctioned by the state of Illinois for illegally selling health insurance and has been implicated in the injury or deaths of several infants - all while comparing traditional pediatricians to Nazis. It's pretty damning stuff, and I hope you take some time to read it. Anyway, it was rude to interrupt you. Go on.
Kristin: And now one in 88 boys is autistic, which is a really scary statistic.Mike: It is scary. It's also not entirely correct. According to the NIH, one in 88 children have been diagnosed with autism. It might seem like a pedantic difference, but accuracy is important. More importantly, autism diagnoses have increased while vaccination has decreased. Wouldn't you say that puts the link between the two in question?
Kristin: The vaccinations have changed over the years, there's more mercury and other...Mike: No, there's not "more mercury." There's almost none. In fact, other than in some flu vaccinations, there's NO mercury in vaccines. So why don't we just stop there?
Vaccination is seen by many as a personal decision. But it's not. It's a decision that affects others. It effects everyone the unvaccinated person will ever come into contact with, and everyone those people come into contact with. And while it's every parent's right to "do their research" on vaccines, that research is too important to do using anything other than sound scientific sources.
Which clearly, Ms. Cavallari hasn't done.
Regardless, I wish her children a long, happy, disease-free life. For the sake of all of us.
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