American model and TV host Jenny McCarthy defended her opposition to mandatory childhood immunizations this week as a “gray area” in science.

Once known as the blonde barker for the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, the 41-year-old celebrity says childhood vaccines “caused” her son Evan to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a chronic condition that disappeared with alternative treatments for ASD. In a scathing editorial published by the Chicago Sun-Times, McCarthy denies the label “anti-vaccine” in describing the case-by-case consideration many choosy moms undertake for every inoculation, large or small.

However, McCarthy’s Wikipedia page begs to differ. The biography continues to describe the co-host of ABC’s The View as an “anti-vaccine advocate.”

In the editorial, McCarthy wrote she’d been “wrongly branded” as an anti-vaccine activist. “I am not ‘anti-vaccine,'” she wrote. “This is not a change in my stance, nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted.” McCarthy says Americans should question the “one size fits all” ethos of childhood immunizations, arguing that “vaccine injuries” are affecting a growing number of children in the developed world.

"What happened to critical thinking? What happened to asking questions because every child is different?" McCarthy wrote.

McCarthy first claimed her “beautiful son Evan” — perhaps the most wussified adolescent boy in America — had developed ASD after receiving childhood immunization shots. In 2008, she told CNN that although she wasn’t “anti-vaccine” she supported alternative vaccine schedules.

"For my child, I asked for a schedule that would allow one shot per visit instead of the multiple shots they were and still are giving infants,” she told CNN in 2008. "I believe in the importance of a vaccine program and I believe parents have the right to choose one poke per visit. I’ve never told anyone to not vaccinate, she said. "I will continue to say what I have always said: One size does not fit all.” God help us all if gray is no longer an option."

Yet “gray” is an option that continues to alarm epidemiologists who say the anti-vaccine movement has led to recent outbreaks in measles, an infectious disease eradicated from the United States and most of Western Europe. In 2011, a 22-year-old theater employee transmitted measles to at least four other people in New York City, two of whom had not been immunized against the disease.

Similar outbreaks in the U.S. and United Kingdom have occurred sporadically as global travelers return home with the infectious disease, among others. Though most of the population is vaccinated, small holes in “herd immunity” provide a disease reservoir threatening a significant portion of the human herd, as evidenced by a 2011 study. Even a relatively small vaccine failure rate of three to five percent would devastate a large American high school, says Robert Jacobson, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. As people age, they naturally lose immunity developed through childhood vaccinations, leaving an opening for disease. But “the most important ‘vaccine failure’ with measles happens when people refuse the vaccine in the first place,” he told Science magazine this month.

The “anti-vaccine” movement, promulgated by McCarthy and others, began with a now debunked article published in 1998 by The Lancet, whose author Tim Wakefield used faulty data to establish the supposed connection between ASD and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine known as the MMR. Still, scientists cannot fully explain the rising prevalence of ASD in America, with as many as one in 88 children falling along the spectrum.

 

Source: Rosen JB, Rota JS, Hickman CJ, Sowers S, Mercader S. Outbreak Of Measles Among Persons With Prior Evidence Of Immunity, New York City, 2011. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2011.