Great cause, poor choice

Ottawa Citizen - - EDITORIAL -

Anti-vac­cine ac­tivist Jenny McCarthy seems like an odd choice for celebrity spokesper­son for a can­cer-foun­da­tion fundraiser.

The Ot­tawa Re­gional Can­cer Foun­da­tion is plan­ning its Bust a Move for Breast Health fundraiser for March 2. It’s de­scribed as a “day-long fit­ness ex­trav­a­ganza” and the foun­da­tion de­serves credit for or­ga­niz­ing this event to raise money for a most wor­thy cause. “Funds from the 2013 event will be in­vested in the Can­cer Foun­da­tion’s com­mit­ment to the Ot­tawa Hospi­tal Foun­da­tion for the ex­pan­sion of the Can­cer Cen­tre and pro­gram­ming at the Can­cer Sur­vivor­ship Cen­tre,” the Bust a Move web­site ex­plains. The goal this year is to raise $500,000.

On Tues­day, the or­ga­ni­za­tion an­nounced that this year’s “celebrity guest” would be “the fab­u­lous Jenny McCarthy.” She’ll be lead­ing a work­out class at the event.

McCarthy is a tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity, a model and an au­thor of sev­eral books on var­i­ous topics, in­clud­ing par­ent­ing, sex and fit­ness.

She’s also the face of the an­ti­vac­cine move­ment, ar­gu­ing that there’s a link be­tween North Amer­ica’s mod­ern vac­ci­na­tion sched­ule and autism. She is per­haps the best known celebrity en­dorser of that par­tic­u­lar wacky view.

All of which makes her a strange part­ner for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that’s work­ing to pro­mote good health. The one no­to­ri­ous pa­per sug­gest­ing a link be­tween the MMR vac­cine and autism was re­tracted by The Lancet last year. Vac­ci­na­tion is one of the great­est ad­vances of mod­ern medicine; it’s why dis­eases like “diph­the­ria” mean lit­tle more to us than a name on a vac­ci­na­tion card, when a cen­tury ago those dis­eases reg­u­larly killed chil­dren.

“In the last 50 years, im­mu­niza­tion has saved more lives in Canada than any other health in­ter­ven­tion,” the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada ex­plains in its im­mu­niza­tion guide. To take just one ex­am­ple, there were about 61,000 cases of measles in Canada in the early 1950s. By the 2000s, that was down to less than 200. In the early 1920s, there were about 9,000 cases of diph­the­ria in Canada a year. To­day, the disease is al­most un­known. Th­ese are se­ri­ous dis­eases that used to cause life-al­ter­ing com­pli­ca­tions and death.

And vac­cines, such as the HPV vac­cine, are an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant tool in can­cer preven­tion.

“There’s some­thing wrong with this gen­er­a­tion of kids,” wrote McCarthy in the Huff­in­g­ton Post a few years ago. “They aren’t healthy.” Ac­tu­ally, the un­der-five mor­tal­ity rate has plum­meted in Canada over the last 50 years, and vac­cines are one rea­son for that.

A health and fit­ness fundraiser, in ser­vice of a health-re­lated foun­da­tion, should not hitch its wagon to an ad­vo­cate for a harm­ful and un­founded ide­ol­ogy.

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