The prestigious Michigan Law Review just fell victim to the celebritization of science, publishing a “legal and medical” analysis by Jenny McCarthy’s pediatrician, Dr. Jay Gordon, on the ‘liability for exercising personal belief exemptions from vaccination.”
Gordon has no credible expertise in immunology, epidemiology, biochemistry, or any other area that qualifies him to speak with authority on vaccines and the law. He is a star-struck pediatrician from Los Angeles who poses as McCarthy’s science adviser and mentor. His notoriety comes from talk shows and being photographed with Jim Carey at Hollywood fundraising parties, and not from any serious scholarship or study.
His law review article is rife with half-truths and misinformation. Most curious was this statement:
When children or babies who have been in contact with other children (or adults) contract most illnesses, there is no feasible way to know from whom they got the disease.
This is demonstrably false. Last year’s outbreak of measles in San Diego was directly traced to an unimmunized seven-year-old who contracted the disease while on vacation with his family in Switzerland. After returning home, the child infected four other children in a doctor’s waiting room. One of those children, an 11-month-old too young for the measles vaccines, later boarded a plane for Hawaii, where he exposed 250 passengers to the disease. According to Gordon, these facts are unknowable.
Additionally, Gordon is apparently unaware that in viral illnesses, hypervariable regions in the genome can be used to “fingerprint” the organism and trace the path of the infection. It is very practical, and done all the time in tracing outbreaks.
Gordon’s muddled thinking is on further display when he tells us:
There are also situations—medical and personal—which justify waiving all or some childhood vaccines, but these are not good reasons to abandon vaccines altogether.
That’s a false choice. One must not abandon vaccines altogether in order to jeopardize public health – simply discouraging ten percent or more of parents from immunizing their children will do. For decades, the nation’s vaccine program has depended on the public’s confidence and trust in public health officials. But that confidence is undermined by uninformed and biased spokespersons such as Dr. Gordon, who use their positions for personal gain and ego gratification. Vaccines are far safer than the diseases they protect against, a point Gordon ignores throughout his piece.
Gordon says parents who don’t vaccinate are being vilified, and he cites press accounts of last year’s measles outbreak where most cases were traced to children whose parents chose not to vaccinate. But the public’s fear of vaccines can also be traced to the unfounded vilification of vaccines by Gordon and others who continually misrepresent the science, and even lie about vaccine ingredients. For example, Gordon has claimed that vaccines contain anti-freeze and ether, which they do not. He has since recanted, but we must ask ourselves why a self-described spokesperson for the “Green Vaccines” movement would make such a reckless statement in the first place. Gordon has also warned parents of the dangers of formaldehyde, which is present in vaccines. Here our Pediatrician to the Stars shows his ignorance of the biochemistry he surely studied in medical college – formaldehyde is a natural by-product of single-carbon metabolism, and a 12-pound infant makes far more formaldehyde every day than is present in any five childhood vaccines combined.
It’s been 500 years since the Swiss physician Paracelsus coined the phrase “dose makes the poison.” When Gordon and his fellow travelers in America’s anti-vaccine movement forget that lesson, they discourage more and more parents from protecting their children against the same diseases that stalked our 16th century ancestors. Gordon talks about parents’ right to choose, but those choices must be made in the light of knowledge and truth. Gordon’s dark suspicions, both baseless and self-aggrandizing, contribute nothing to the important decisions that parents are asked to make.
The legal theories behind compulsory vaccination statutes are worthy subjects for a law review, and I commend the Michigan Law Review for tackling this subject. But the cause of scholarship is best served by informed comment and knowledgeable experts in relevant fields. It’s bad enough that the line between news and entertainment has all but disappeared. Let’s not make the same mistake with the law.