I have to confess, I have never watched more than a few minutes of your show. Probably not the best way to start a letter to you, but I want to be honest. And the truth is, I think you’re making a terrible mistake.
Last weekend, I spent more time listening to and watching you than in the rest of my life combined. My family and I were sitting in the Duke stadium, looking down on the thousands of giddy graduates (including my older brother), the esteemed faculty in their rainbow regalia, and the charming, if a bit over the top, fake castle festooned with flags representing the different academic schools. I had no idea you were the commencement speaker until the student speaker, Robert Paul Jones, pretended to get a cell phone call from Parking & Transportation services about your limo double-parked in front of the chapel.
Having only seen you in short commercial clips and on the cover of your magazine, I wasn’t sure what to expect from your speech. I was pleasantly surprised. You were warm and funny, your voice clear and yet dressed with feeling, and I am sure you meant every word. Over the course of those 20 or 30 minutes, I developed a great respect for you as a talented speaker.
But I couldn’t leave the stadium wholly inspired by you, as I’m sure many others did. To me, it is clear that a significant number of people look up to you, and trust your advice and judgment. That is why it is such a huge mistake for you to endorse Jenny McCarthy with her own show on your network.
Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy. In fact, ten of the thirteen authors of the paper that sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement retracted the explosive conclusions they made due to insufficient evidence. Furthermore, it is now clear that the study’s main author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to support these shaky conclusions.
We have come close to eradicating life-threatening and crippling illnesses because of vaccines, but are now struggling to prevent outbreaks because of parents’ philosophical beliefs that vaccines are harmful. Realize this: when someone chooses not to vaccinate their child, they aren’t just putting their own child at risk, they are putting everyone else around them at risk. Diseases with vaccines should normally be of little concern even to unprotected individuals due to herd immunity – with the majority of the population immune, unprotected individuals are less likely to come into contact with the pathogen. Unfortunately, herd immunity disintegrates as fewer people are vaccinated, putting everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated at greater risk for infection. Now, the rates of infection by diseases for which we have safe and effective vaccines are climbing, thanks to anti-vaccination activists like Jenny McCarthy.
You reach millions of people everyday and your words and endorsements carry an incredible amount of weight. If you say to buy a certain book, people will buy it. If you do a segment on a certain charity, people will contribute. And if you say that what Jenny McCarthy is saying has merit, people will believe you.