Amanda Peet gets her shot on

The actress and mom defends childhood vaccinations from Jenny McCarthy.

Published July 15, 2008 1:45PM (EDT)

Ever since Jenny McCarthy appeared on "Oprah" last September blaming her son's autism on vaccines, I've wondered when another celebrity mom would speak up to defend immunizations. Enter actress Amanda Peet, who costars with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in "The X Files: I Want to Believe," which debuts later this month. The mother of 18-month-old Frances, Peet is now a spokeswoman for Every Child by Two, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting vaccines founded by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

In an interview with Cookie magazine, Peet says that as a new mother, she was nervous about vaccinations, wondering: "Why are all these necessary? Why are some people staggering them?" But she eventually decided to vaccinate her daughter according to the normal schedule: "I buy 99 percent organic food for Frankie, and I don't like to give her medicine or put sunscreen on her," Peet tells Cookie. "But now that I've done my research, vaccines do not concern me." This is a celebrity profile, so Peet doesn't get into many details, but she does have some harsh words for parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, since their kids benefit from the "shield" from disease provided by children who are immunized: "Frankly, I feel that parents who don't vaccinate their children are parasites."

Yet, as more parents choose not to vaccinate their kids that shield is becoming less effective. In one recent outbreak of measles in San Diego, 12 kids were infected. What happened? An unvaccinated 7-year-old traveled to Switzerland with his family, contracted the disease there and brought it back home, infecting some of his unvaccinated classmates and several infants in his pediatrician's office, babies who were too young to have received the immunization.

As of early July, there had been 127 cases of measles in the United States this year, with incidences of the disease reported in 15 states, according to Reuters. That's the most cases in a single year since 1997. To put that number in perspective, in 2007, there were just 30 cases in the United States in the whole year. It bears remembering that around the world, where many don't have access to vaccines, measles remains a leading cause of death among poor children, killing about 250,000 annually.

Now, Peet vs. McCarthy is the celebrity smackdown du jour. Sure, we'd all be better off taking our medical advice from doctors and nurses rather than celebrities. Yet, everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Salon columnist Dr. Rahul Parikh has tried to reassure parents that vaccines don't cause autism. Meanwhile, public health officials worry when public confidence in vaccinations continues to erode, in part because of high-profile celebrity advocacy, like McCarthy's Green Our Vaccines march and rally held in Washington, D.C., in June.

Paging Oprah's producers! In the interest of equal time, having put McCarthy's story out there, why not do a show focusing on the measles outbreak in San Diego? If you need to put a celebrity face on the issue, I'd wager Amanda Peet is available.

As they say on "The X Files": The truth is out there.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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