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For kids' sakes, stick to the vax

Of course, dissent and constant testing of science are necessary for medical advances.

YOU CAN get a great meal at Chili's and help them weather a storm that started when they twice did the right thing in trying to help in the battle against autism.

In support of National Autism Awareness Month, Chili's on April 7 was planning to donate 10 percent of everyone's check to the National Autism Association. This was certainly a generous contribution.

The only problem was that multiple sources alerted Chili's that the National Autism Association dodged a direct yes or no position on its website on the question of whether vaccines can cause autism in a child. They offered a link to the National Vaccine Information Center.

This vaguely sounds like a federal agency, but, as Michael Specter points out in his book Denialism, "The NVIC is the most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America, and its relationship with the U.S. government consists almost entirely of opposing federal efforts aimed at vaccinating children."

When Chili's was made aware of these facts, they stopped the promotion for the autism group. This is the second worthy thing Chili's did in this matter.

Chili's said, "The intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism."

Based upon the calls I got on my radio show, Chili's had to know that their action would enrage the anti-vaccine crowd. During this controversy, former "Playboy" centerfold Jenny McCarthy, one of "The View" hosts and the face of the anti-vaxxers movement, wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times claiming that she never was completely anti-vaccination.

First, it's important to realize that McCarthy's name appears in medical journals. That is a great indicator of how much damage she has done through her celebrity in spreading dangerous misinformation.

As far as her claim in the recent op-ed that "I've never told anyone to not vaccinate," James Hamblin, writing in the Atlantic, serves up a choice example from many of McCarthy's anti-vaccine statements.

In 2009, she said, "It's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their f---ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's sh--. If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism."

Thanks to the efforts of McCarthy, actor Aidan Quinn and reality-TV star Kristin Cavallari, who last month said that not vaccinating was the "best decision for her kids," USA Today ran a big story on April 6 detailing that things like whooping cough, measles and other diseases are making a big comeback and sometimes causing death in children.

What is particularly concerning is that as celebrities, anything they say reaches more people (because of their media visibility) than any respected pediatrician. Unfortunately, many parents can be influenced more by a celebrity sound bite than the overwhelming amount of research and evidence conducted by the medical community.

McCarthy and some others have adapted their tactics and are now attacking the idea of giving kids a so-called cocktail of vaccines in one visit to the pediatrician.

My go-to person on how dangerously misinformed the anti-vaxxers are is Dr. Paul Offit, of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Writing last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, Offit said, "Delaying vaccines offers no clear benefit and puts children at unnecessary risk. The most significant consequence is increasing the amount of time an infant or young child is susceptible to a vaccine-preventable disease, often during the time when a child is most at risk for severe infection."

The good news in all this, to me, is that many groups and doctors are pushing back against the anti-vaxxers.

USA Today cites doctors, like those at Olde Towne Pediatrics, in Manassas, Va., who won't take new patients if the parents don't plan to vaccinate their kids. It's believed that many pediatricians are doing this or considering doing it.

They also report that several states are making it harder to get an exemption to not vaccinate your children. In Colorado, a proposed bill would require parents to get a doctor's note or watch a video about risks before opting out of vaccines.

It's clear to me that the anti-vaxxers are getting better at disputing the science of vaccination and what is called herd immunity. Herd immunity means that high vaccination rates can protect even unvaccinated people by lowering the level of infectious disease in the community. The anti-vaxxers will try any tactic to satisfy their own often ignorant world view.

Of course, dissent and constant testing of science are necessary for medical advances. But I'll put my money on people like Dr. Paul Offit, of CHOP, over "Dr." Jenny McCarthy any day.