Last night during an episode of the CBS comedy The Crazy Ones, the character played by Sarah Michelle Geller (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame), made a plug for influenza vaccination. When some other characters demurred, she replied "Blame Jenny McCarthy". I tweeted about that exchange and it prompted Ms. Geller to make me one of her "Follow Friday" selections.
Edward Jenner's 18th century identification that cowpox was protective against smallpox changed the world and gave birth to the vaccinology. It also spawned the anti-vaccine movement. See Paul Offit's masterpiece Deadly Choices, which I reviewed for JAMA--a piece of my own writing of which I am especially proud.
That we are still engaging in the same debates that Dr. Jenner did is baffling to me given how vaccines, 2 centuries after Dr. Jenner's heroic efforts, have--almost singlehandedly--been responsible for the massive growth in the human lifespan. The current burden that exists with respect to pertussis, measles, mumps, and even polio (in Northern Nigeria) can be linked to the misguided anti-vaccine movement.
In recent years, we have seen celebrities leverage their ability to reach large audiences to spread the anti-vaccine message. (I can think of only one celebrity on the pro-vaccine side, Amanda Peet). Jenny McCarthy has been one such celebrity who, after the tragic development of certain neurologic symptoms in her son and his subsequent diagnosis of autism, became an outspoken critic of vaccines. Though no link exists between vaccines and the development of autism and academic fraud was responsible for the initial positing of the link, it is extremely difficult to persuade people away from this falsehood.