Doctors and public health authorities have been exasperated by Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine campaigns, prompting some to highlight what they see as her malign influence on public trust in immunisation.
With a sense of weary frustration, scientists have repeatedly tried to debunk messages spread by McCarthy and others, but the influence of well-known public figures dramatically outweighs that of health officials.
Earlier this year a survey showed that while most parents believe that their child’s doctor is the most reliable source of vaccination advice, 24% place “some faith” in what celebrities have to say about vaccine safety.
Trust in our doctors may be high but psychology experts believe we .
Fighting fire with fire?
So, is wheeling out pro-vaccine celebrities as an antidote to anti-vaccine actors simply fighting fire with fire or does it smack of hypocrisy and desperation.
Paul Offit, a doctor and high-profile vaccine advocate who helped develop the rotavirus vaccine, that conducting public debate on science through celebrity proxies is the wrong approach.
“It’s for the same reason that I don’t like people listening to McCarthy that I can’t say it’s great for people to listen to celebrities that agree with what doctors are saying. I’d prefer if people listened to their doctors – the vast majority of whom are strongly in favour of vaccination. In a better world I’d like to feel like we can appeal to reason but maybe I’m being an idealist!”
The rise of the pro-vaccine celebrity
For most celebrities, sticking their heads about the parapet in the name of science-based medicine is a thankless task: they risk alienating a segment of their audience in exchange for the occasional gratitude of mainstream medicine.
The reality is that the majority of parents – including actors and singers – vaccinate their children, but most prefer to take their place in the silent majority rather than explain their decision to others.
However, there are signs of change. Salma Hayek and Amanda Peet are among the Hollywood names who regularly speak up in favour of vaccination, while is fast becoming Defender-in-Chief of vaccines in the developing world.
Amanda Peet has been particularly forthright. She has tackled the issue head on, speaking of the damage done by Andrew Wakefield’s debunked theory linking vaccines to autistic spectrum disorders, and of how funding has been diverted away from researching the real causes of autism, as well as finding new vaccines.
Peet has even managed to make herself a hate figure among anti-vaccine groups by bluntly declaring: “Frankly, I feel that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are parasites.”
Ironically enough, she urges other parents to “ignore the stars, listen to the experts”. Despite what Paul Offit might hope, it seems the best way to encourage the general public to get their medical information from medics is to have a celebrity deliver the message.
Celebrities & vaccines
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