It is none of my business, and I know it, so much that I’m a little bit embarrassed to say it, but I really wish Kristin Cavallari would vaccinate her children.
Cavallari joined longtime anti-vaccination advocate Jenny McCarthy in that spotlight this week, stating that she has not had her son Camden vaccinated due to fear that they cause autism. She also stated that she does not plan to vaccinate her new baby when he arrives.
“You know what, I’ve read too many books about autism. There is a pediatric group called Homestead or, shoot, Homestead or Home First — now I have pregnancy brain, I got them confused — but they’ve never vaccinated any of their children and they’ve never had one case of autism. And now, one in 88 boys is autistic, which is a really scary statistic.”
“Well, my mom vaccinated us, and she doesn’t have any cases of autism either,” host and ex-MTV VJ Kennedy said. “Isn’t that weird?”
“But the vaccinations have changed over the years. There’s more mercury and other [stuff]…” Cavallari said.
One interview cannot possibly communicate all of the research a mother like Cavallari and her husband Jay Cutler have done to make this sort of important decision for their child. At least I hope that it can’t, because reading books and citing one group as evidence of the danger of vaccines despite the countless lives that have been saved from the eradication of diseases like polio, mumps, and smallpox just does not compute. She also does not mention a personal pediatrician’s counsel, although I am positive that parents with the resources of Cavallari and Cutler’s have access to excellent medical care. They still, as parents nearly always do, have the right to do what they want regardless of a physician’s advice and can opt out of vaccine requirements for schools under personal belief exemptions.
What is the impact on public health, though, if parents choose to go against scientific evidence that measles, mumps and rubella vaccines do not cause autism, and don’t vaccinate? The answer appears to be that these diseases will spread. Jenny McCarthy’s often-cited resource, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, did a study in 1998 that blamed vaccines for an increase in autism. That U.K.-based study’s claim that autism and vaccinations are linked has since been retracted, but measles cases there soared from a few dozen a year to 2,000 in its aftermath. There have been 16 cases of measles reported in New York this year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December that measles “still threatens health security.” Wakefield’s study and McCarthy’s efforts to publicize it based on her belief that vaccines had something to do with her son’s autism are often cited as a contributing factor in these outbreaks.
Kristin Cavallari says she didn’t intend to become an anti-vaccine spokesperson.
“It is a harsh response. You know, it’s not something that I publicly wanted to come out and say. I was in an interview and it came up, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. But, you know, listen, to each their own. I understand both sides of it. I’ve read too many books about autism and there’s some scary statistics out there. It’s our personal choice, you know, and if you’re really concerned about your kid, then get them vaccinated and it shouldn’t be a problem.”
There is a problem, though, with “to each their own” in a situation like vaccines, that were invented to fight diseases that disabled and killed millions of people. A parent who doesn’t vaccinate and says “to each their own” is banking on not being part of the problem in the “public” part of “public health.” Beyond gambling with their children’s health, they are doing the same with everyone with whom their child comes into contact — for life.
I appreciate a person’s desire to spare their children from the challenges of autism.I truly do. However, I also don’t want anyone to get measles, or mumps, or whooping cough, or any diseases that have mostly been removed from the list of myriad fears that parents have dealt with for centuries regarding the health and happiness of their children and families. These diseases can kill. I want my nephew, and your kid, and the kids on my street to be safe from them, in schools and in social settings. I want adults to be safe from them, too. An adult in my family had mumps, and it was terrifying — for him and for those of us who loved him. I don’t want anyone to have to go through that, because it is preventable.
I have to admit that I hope that people aren’t looking to Kristin Cavallari — or Jenny McCarthy, for that matter — to help them make healthcare decisions for their children, particularly something as fundamental as the choice to vaccinate or not. That is what consultation with trained medical professionals is for. Countless autism parents have responded to McCarthy’s fervor with dismay and concern, and it is likely they will do the same with Cavallari’s. I know that most people do not take a celebrity’s views specifically into account on such important parenting matters, but if they do, it’s good for them and everyone else it affects if the information they’re hearing is based on reliable facts, at least something beyond a few books and a study with a name she can’t really remember. Public and personal health is too important for anything less.
Image credit: Pacific Coast News