Oprah criticised for spreading unfounded vaccination fears.

Slate Magazine in the USA has this month criticised Oprah Winfrey for providing a prominent platform for actress and vaccine sceptic Jenny McCarthy.

McCarthy has been a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and elsewhere where she claims that vaccines caused her son to be autistic and that children get too many vaccines too soon. The Slate article states:

“For some reason, Oprah and the rest of the entertainment world treat McCarthy as if she were Mother Theresa kissing lepers or Nelson Mandela denouncing apartheid. She’s been proven wrong about vaccines, yet she persists in claiming that they are so dangerous that it’s better to get vaccine-preventable diseases than get the shots.”

Slate magazine also reports

“Oprah has signed McCarthy to a deal, starting with a blog on the Oprah Web site. Though neither woman’s people will confirm details of the deal, it will presumably lead to a talk show, as it did for Rachael Ray and Dr. Phil, two other Oprah protégés. Perhaps not every episode of a McCarthy show will address vaccines and autism, but some surely will.”

Meanwhile, a team of public health experts has noted in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that:

“perceived safety issues, such as a purported association between vaccines and autism, though not supported by a credible body of scientific evidence, have left increasing numbers of parents to refuse or delay vaccination for their children.”

Here in New Zealand, Helen Petousis-Harris, Director of Research at the Immunisation Advisory Centre, comments,

“Jenny McCarthy is a playboy bunny who has generated considerable media attention by making outrageous claims about vaccines. Sadly this sort of behaviour erodes public confidence in vaccines, the result of which is the re-emergence of some serious diseases. Hopefully most people will continue to get their health related information and advice from a medical doctor or nurse rather than an actress.

“Vaccines are the most rigorously tested medicines available. Vaccine safety is taken very seriously and large studies are used to investigate concerns. Scientists have repeatedly found no link between vaccines and autism from studies conducted in many countries comparing hundreds of thousands of vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

“It is sad that fantasy can attract so much attention outside of fiction novels and movies, and that someone with no scientific or medical credentials can be regarded by some people in the media as having at least equal credibility as the individuals and global collectives who have spent lifetimes dedicated to science of vaccines, vaccination. This is a problem faced regularly by immunisation programmes across the world.”

To talk to an expert on vaccinations in New Zealand, please contact the Science Media Centre on tel: 04 499 5476 or email: smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz.