Mayim Bialik is best known for her child acting career as the title character on Blossom. She currently plays the nerdy Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory and holds a real-life PhD in neuroscience. She’s a vegan and tries to practice a version of Jewish modesty dress in a landscape of skimpy outfits. She’s a homeschooler and believer in Attachment Parenting aka “AP.” She’s even written a book on the subject. I really want to adore her, but then she had to go ruin it all by practicing unsafe parenting.
Sure, she’s a bit extreme. AP isn’t for everyone, and we all make different choices with our kids. I co-slept with my kids, tandem nursed and allowed them to wean on their own schedule, and put them in cloth diapers. Elimination Communication – not so much, but I don’t have a problem if that’s how she wants to spend her time. If she wants to occasionaly chew food for her kids, which she has, or eat her own placenta, which she has, that’s her choice. It’s not my bag, but it doesn’t hurt me. We at GeekMom are used to people doing things that are a little offbeat. However, when she decides not to vaccinate her kids, that’s when she hurts me, you, the little old lady down the street, and all the rest of us.
First off, any parent deciding to not vaccinate their children is deciding to rely on the herd immunity of others around them — unless they plan on intentionally exposing their children to deadly diseases to build up their immunity. (Read what happened to Roald Dahl’s child before contemplating a measles party. It could still happen today.) Mayim is freeloading on the system and weakening it at the same time. That herd immunity is there to protect people like our very own Jules, who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons. That herd immunity is there for kids on chemotherapy, tiny babies, and people who are vaccinated but for whatever reason it doesn’t “take.” It’s not intended to be a matter of personal choice, like cloth or disposable diapers.
So she’s eroding the system by two. Big deal, right? It’s a big deal every time it happens, but it’s a bigger deal when an otherwise smart celebrity does it. A celebrity with a background in science, fer cripe’s sake! A celebrity who pastes her PhD right on the cover of her book. It’s not a PhD in immunology or epidemiology, but that doesn’t mean the degree doesn’t give her the appearance of authority. Paranoia is contagious, and she’s now a Typhoid Mary like Jenny McCarthy. Coincidentally, she and Jenny share a pediatrician, and he still thinks vaccines cause autism. She justifies her anti-vaccine stance by saying her pediatrician is ok with her decisions. Of course he’s ok with it! He’s famous for being anti-vaccine, and she chose him knowing his very public and outspoken views on the subject beforehand.
(A side note: That pediatrician is also ok with Mayim ignoring developmental delays and possible signs of autism in her children. Those delays turned out to be actual autism in my child’s case. I did not catch with the magic of mother’s intuition, and my pediatrician recommended further screening just to be sure. While not every kid with a delay needs therapy for it, there’s no harm in getting a second opinion from a neurologist or developmental pediatrician.)
Anti-vaccination is contagious. It’s a giant case of the Panic Virus. As social creatures, we still learn a lot from our friends. I know a lot of our personal family choices were based on observing what our friends did and how it worked out for them. Mayim decided to investigate Attachment Parenting when she saw her friends doing it, and I’m willing to bet she started to hesitate about vaccines based on the opinions of her friends, too.
In certain circles, especially in the AP community, there’s huge pressure to reject or at least delay vaccines. (While a delay is better than not doing it at all, it’s still dangerous.) You then show by your personal meddling with the schedule that you care, that you’ve paid attention and done research. Hey, we haven’t all gotten degrees in epidemiology and studied the schedule, but we can all scowl at it skeptically, right? Following the recommendations of the scientists who research this stuff for a living is for sheep. They must all somehow be in the thrall of large pharmaceutical corporations. Or so the thinking goes.
I’m not claiming to be immune. I delayed two vaccines for my own kids, but if I had it all to do over, I’d have put worry into finding the right car seat instead of making myself uncertain of something that so clearly has benefits outweighing the risks. Parenting is hard enough. We don’t need to make anti-medicine the new must-have baby toy.
It’s time for a little social pressure of our own. It’s time for us to tell Mayim to take this one back. Stop being responsible for the measles or pertussis revivals. Once you blog about it and talk about it on interviews, like the one you did recently for Science Friday, you’re no longer just influencing your friends. It’s no longer a private, personal decision. You’re influencing everyone within earshot. Stop being a disease vector. Stop pretending like the only person affected by your decisions is you. Start acting like the role model you aspire to be.
Mayim has posted what appears to be a response to this post.
To clarify, I did not set out to attach my name to hers in order to ride on her coattails. I’d rather be mentioning her in a positive light. She’s a bit of a geek icon, and as I said, I’d really love to adore her. In many ways I still do, but I’m disappointed in her irrational fear of vaccines. Her book implies that choosing not to vaccinate is equally acceptable as vaccinating. She goes on to say that she’s happy not vaccinating, and the books she recommends parents use for research play up vaccine fears and do not reflect mainstream medical views. She may not see that as directly telling other parents what to do, but I and many others see it as influencing parents on what to do.
Here’s my recommended reading list for parents who want to find more scientifically grounded information about vaccines:
In addition, you should check out these websites:
The Vaccine Times (edited by our very own Jules)
Respectful Insolence (warning: high snark level)