vaccinesIf there is one thing that has been brought out by the recent revelation that Kristin Cavallari and Jay Cutler will not be vaccinating their children, it’s the fact that a lot of American parents desperately need to believe vaccines are not harming their children.

Emphasis on desperately.

My God, the level of mean-spiritedness and whatever the opposite of empathy is that is brought out when people get going on the Internet on this topic is so beyond anything I’ve ever seen on any other subject. And I have been reading about this topic for over a decade, ever since both my siblings became the parents of autistic children.

Here’s how it goes in this country, like everything else – black or white. Those are your choices. You either fall in line with 40-plus vaccines your doctor recommends on his or her schedule or you’re a wack-job “anti-vaxxer.” Heaven forbid you think the gray zone is an intelligent place to reside and you express doubt or fear or maybe want to spread the vaccines out a bit on this tiny person you’ve brought into the world.

This, by the way, is the real view Jenny McCarthy holds. The gray one. But that wouldn’t support the need so many seem to have to express a raging desperation that they’ve done the right thing for their child. They seem to need someone to vilify.

“People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines,” McCarthy told Time science editor Jeffrey Kluger in 2009. “Please understand that we are not an antivaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.”

Wait, let me read that again. I think I missed the part where she told you, Joe and Mary American, to skip vaccines and live on the wild side.

Good grief.

We just had a whole Twitter episode where people used the social media outlet to turn one of McCarthy’s Tweets on her. She was trying to open up some general dialogue using the hashtag #JennyAsks and what she got was a bunch of scolds on her ‘junk science’ views. The responses to this in some media outlets have been orgasmic in their delight.

“Just when you think that Internet commentary is nothing more than a wretched hive of scum and villainy, a light shines through so strongly it can help restore your optimism about people,” writes astronomer and blogger Phil Plait on

Yes, it restored my faith in humanity and the media to see him refer to “anti-vaccination mouthpiece Jenny McCarthy” in his very next sentence. Except that she isn’t.

Mediaite opened its response to the Twitter frenzy with “Today is a great day.” And later in the piece says, “Every time a measles outbreak or a whooping couch [sic] story appears in the news, McCarthy gets a wave of tweets mocking her anti-vaccination nonsense.” Except that – again — she’s not an anti-vaxxer.

For the record, I am not an anti-vaxxer either, but I’m willing to bet many people who have read this far already formed an opinion that I am. I’ve been greeted with silence from my closest friends when I’ve broached the subject of vaccines. In a land where we thrive on questioning science, the government, chemicals in our food and every darned thing, we find it hard to believe that pharmaceutical companies could have in any way covered up something that could severely impact their reputations and viability. I’m not saying this is true, but I think it’s irresponsible not to ask. Following the money doesn’t seem at all a far-fetched thing to do.

I have read voraciously on this subject. I know the passion of the parents who saw the lights go out in their child only to never see them go back on. I know the passion of the parents who have not experienced this and need to believe that it can’t happen. I know about the MMR and thimerosal allegations, Dr. Andrew Wakefield (and the theories about the Murdoch family’s connection to GlaxoSmithKline contributing to his downfall), increased cases of measles, vocal medical professionals with a financial stake in vaccines, the justifiable frustration of parents who choose to vaccinate, how herd immunity works.

Right in the gray area I’m talking about are also statements like this by Dr. Bill Sears:

The problem is, no mainstream researcher has yet to PROVE that vaccines are a contributor to autism. And because vaccines play an important role in preventing disease, we will need some pretty solid proof that vaccines contribute to autism before some will be taken off the market. Right now the Centers for Disease Control’s official statement (paraphrased) is that autism is clearly on the rise, that there is not enough evidence to prove a link between autism and vaccines, and that further research is being done on the matter.

Honestly, I’ve read ALL the research, and both sides present good data and good arguments. I’m not sure who is right at this point. Until I see enough evidence that shows vaccines are linked to autism, I certainly am not going to tell anyone that vaccines contribute to autism. But at the same time I can’t say for sure that vaccines absolutely do NOT play any role at all in contributing to autism.

I am not a medical professional or a parent. My opinions are based on the massive amount I’ve read and my own healthy skepticism when it comes to drugs. In the last two years I’ve had adverse reactions to a few medications for high blood pressure (crippling pain in my legs where I could barely walk across a room, to name one) and my doctor insisted it wasn’t from the drug; yet those pains went away after I got off the drug and my own deep research indicated I wasn’t the first to experience this. I’ve watched my mother go for what was supposed to be a routine two-day procedure on her back, repeatedly report severe burning near her incision only to find out she was allergic to the tape around the bandage while caretakers gave her the deer-in-the-headlights look. The people in my acquaintance who have had the most severe cases of the flu this winter had flu shots.

This is all anecdotal and proves nothing, I know. But I bring it up because I think it’s crucial that we have healthy skepticism about what we put into our bodies and the bodies of those in our care. I have had extremely positive experiences with my doctors over most of my life; this is not an indictment of Western medicine. However, I will never again go into any procedure or course of treatment with 100 percent certainty. How could any thinking person?

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest her or his patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease,” said Thomas Edison.

We’ve strayed very far from that.

As for Kristin Cavallari – who, by the way, I never heard of until this week — and her decision:

“Here’s the thing,” she said in The Daily News. “At the end of the day, I’m just a mom. I’m trying to do the best thing for my kids.”

If we have scorn for that, I don’t know where we are.