In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.
Stars have played a key role in stoking vaccine alarm and shaping the narrative around immunization suspicion. That atmosphere of doubt helped contribute to a decline in childhood shot rates across the country over the past decade, including across L.A. Jenny McCarthy’s outright connection of shots with autism has been the most conspicuous example of celebrity engagement. While many others, including [Rob] Schneider, Toni Braxton and Aidan Quinn, share this concern, high-profile dissident behavior runs the gamut. It can be advocacy of irregular, choose-your-own immunization schedules unsupported by medical authorities (Holly Robinson Peete, Alicia Silverstone) to protesting SB 277 as a matter of government overreach thwarting individual rights (Danny Masterson, Jim Carrey).
Whatever the talking point, their Q Scores significantly amplify it. “A celebrity saying something gives it a lot more attention — period,” says Michael Sitrick, CEO of L.A. crisis management firm Sitrick and Company. “It’s the same reason why marketers have celebrities endorsing products.”
The vaccine-skeptical celebrity crowd is, on the whole, in line with the movement at large, which oftentimes overlaps with those attracted to natural products, attachment parenting, alternative medicine, organic foods, environmental activism and a generalized corporate distrust. Such sociological correspondence can be keenly leveraged: “You’re borrowing credibility from one thing and bringing it to another,” observes Julie Fairchild, a partner at Lovell-Fairchild Communications, a film-marketing firm specializing in faith-oriented projects.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that GOP nominee Donald Trump, who’s proven his ability to understand and seize on the latent anxieties of Americans, has been a loud autism-connecting vaccine skeptic on Twitter for several years, culminating in a Republican presidential primary debate in September 2015, when, citing anecdotal evidence, he criticized what he described as an overly aggressive schedule of too-intense doses. “I mean,” he said on stage, “it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not a child!”