Here's Why Celebs Shouldn't Play Doctor

Recent outbreaks show misinformation about vaccines spread by reality TV stars and other celebrities is giving kids 19th-century illnesses.

Kristin Cavallari. (Photo: Mike Pont/Getty Images)

Mar 21, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Solvej Schou writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC.com, and Entertainment Weekly.

She's not a doctor; she doesn't even play one on TV. But reality television alum Kristin Cavallari is trumpeting ignorant, disproven anti-vaccine views in the midst of a bicoastal measles outbreak that threatens the lives of infants.

Cavallari, the latest anti-vaccine celebrity cut from the Jenny McCarthy mold, has said she believes that children should not get vaccinated against deadly diseases because of a perceived link between vaccines and early onset autism. The notion has its origins in a single medical study from 1998, which has since been retracted as a fraud.

If any of Cavallari’s social media followers, or fans of her husband, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, take her advice, it will only add to the difficulty that the misguided anti-vaccine movement has created for public health officials and doctors: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 74 percent of pediatricians report encountering a parent who refused or delayed one or more vaccines within a 12-month period. The academy also cites a 2011 survey of children six months to six years old that found 13 percent of parents followed an alternative vaccination schedule, with 53 percent of those parents refusing certain vaccines and 17 percent of them refusing vaccines altogether.

The trend has led to alarming outbreaks of the measles spreading across California and New York City while Cavallari, best known for stints on posh reality TV shows The Hills and Laguna Beach, casually chats up her anti-vaccine views. Now pregnant with her second child, on Tuesday she defended previous controversial comments she made about not vaccinating her son, telling Bravo TV’s Watch What Happens Live, “I’m just a mom. I'm trying to make the best decision for my kid."

Considering that public health officials in California this week revealed that 19 of the 32 cases of measles confirmed in the state are of unvaccinated people, including kids, and 14 of that group were intentionally not vaccinated with the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, owing in part to unfounded fears of autism, it seems the best decision for her kid would be to have him vaccinated.

Meanwhile, New York City officials have confirmed 20 cases of the measles, nine of them involving children. Because infants younger than 12 months can't get the MMR vaccine, they are among the most vulnerable to the disease; it hardly seems fair that one of them might get horribly sick or even die because of a woman famous for being on reality television who doesn't understand the basic premise of medical science. Two of those sick kids were intentionally not vaccinated.

According to the California Department of Public Health, MMR shots are the best defense against measles, with 99 percent of people developing immunity after two doses of the vaccine, delivered at around 12 months old and then around age five.

In her Watch What Happens Live interview, Cavallari also claimed, "There are very scary statistics out there regarding what is in vaccines and what they cause."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has definitively stated there isn’t a causal relationship between immunization and autism spectrum disorder in children, citing both a 2013 Journal of Pediatrics study and a 2004 Institute of Medicine review.

Ex–Playboy model McCarthy's anti-vaccine campaign, which she's written about in several books, is back in the news as well. The View cohost has been feeling the heat of a recent public push back against her vaccination beliefs. On March 13, McCarthy posted a benign question to her 1.1 million Twitter followers about what trait to look for in a mate, to which thousands of people responded using the hashtag #JennyAsks to smack down her anti-immunization views and her claims that her son's autism is linked to being given the MMR vaccine.

Stars such as Cavallari and McCarthy, with huge platforms online and on TV, blast out unfiltered opinions contrary to overwhelming medical evidence, leading parents to not give their children shots that protect against measles and other diseases. Almost 20 million cases of infectious diseases and 42,000 deaths are avoided every year in the U.S. through vaccination, according to the organization Every Child by Two.

Maybe Cavallari and McCarthy would like to visit one of the many countries that can't afford widespread immunization and consider raising their children there.