In the wake of the Disneyland-linked measles outbreak, which has now hit 87 cases, columnist Michael Hiltzik takes a look back at Jenny McCarthy in a Los Angeles Times piece whose headline dubs her a "public menace" for popularizing the anti-vaccine movement. Hiltzik also reminds us that McCarthy, who touted the flawed view that the MMR vaccine causes autism, was given praise and an even wider audience by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, People magazine, and The View. As Hiltzik writes, if we truly want to fight the spread of McCarthy's ideas, it's time to "step up peer pressure in favor of vaccination."
Hiltzik cites Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan for that tip; Nyhan did research finding that anti-vaccine parents are typically not swayed by scientific evidence that refutes their fears—hence Hiltzik's suggestion that, instead, we make the idea of not vaccinating your kids "socially unacceptable," which "could have a real impact in [the] affluent, educated communities" that are seeing declining vaccination rates. Of course, anti-vaxxers in such communities see their flawed views reinforced by "irresponsible local pediatricians," so we also need regulators to step up and make sure all physicians are "upholding their professional responsibilities" when advising parents on vaccines. Click for Hiltzik's full column. (Read more measles stories.)