by Jen Jenkins
Celebrity influence can often be considerable, even when it comes to health and medicine. Although this influence can sometimes be for good, it can also be harmful. Doctors are fighting now more than ever to seize the spotlight from celebrities when it comes to medical issues, as their voices typically have far more reach than medical journals. Most recently, this New York Times article discusses the case of a documentary film being pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival. The film, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, was pulled by Tribeca in the wake of an uproar from doctors and experts. The concern revolved around the extreme publicity of the event and screening a film that featured research into the connection between vaccines and autism — research offered by a disgraced former doctor that has long since been debunked.
Anti-vaccination advocacy is an issue that has been promoted by many celebrities and politicians as of late. Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University, believes celebrities have an out-of-proportion impact on the public’s understanding of vaccine risk but he also added, “I don’t want to overplay it; most people vaccinate. It’s not like hordes of people are listening to Jenny McCarthy and saying, ‘Forget the American Association of Pediatrics, I’m going with the former Playboy Bunny.’” However, with so many celebrities heavily promoting new drugs, exclaiming incessantly about health practices, or offering opinions on health recommendations for infants and children, it is important to ensure the public understands that although celebrity health advice may be well-meaning, it can still be dangerous. “It’s part of the general impact celebrities are having on health,” says Caplan. “It’s a constant battle to try to correct misperceptions.”