On July 1, 2015, NBC News published an article titled “Ethicist: Why Jim Carrey is Wrong About Vaccines”1 by Arthur Caplan, PhD, who is a professor of bioethics at New York University Medical School’s Department of Population Health, Division of Medical Ethics.2 The opinion piece was superficially to applaud the signing into law of SB 277 by Governor Jerry Brown of California. The law eliminates all religious or philosophical exemptions to vaccines for children who attend public and private schools, including daycare centers, in California.
The new law is all to the good. No major religions have heartburn over vaccination. Most see it as an obligation in order to help the community. And philosophical exemptions were nothing but an open door for those who are ill-informed, addicted to misinformation on the internet or just plain selfish.1
Liberty is a key value for Americans, as critics of the law now are noting. But they ignore the fact that liberty has to yield when using it puts others at risk. So, just as speed limits protect you and me from reckless drivers, and mandatory car seats and seatbelts protect kids careless parents, mandating vaccination protects kids from lousy parental choices.1
But the primary aim of the Caplan’s article is to denigrate actor Jim Carrey or anyone who dares to question the safety and efficacy of vaccines and offers their opinions on this evolving national debate. Caplan opines:
The actor Jim Carrey is one of a small number of anti-vaxxers who is beside himself at the passage of the tough new law. He has tweeted out to his 14 million twitter followers that the decision to protect the community from measles, mumps, whooping cough and flu is fascism. Not only is Carrey ignorant when it comes to vaccines, he is a fool when it comes to using terms like fascism.1
It’s not exactly the kind of high brow language one would expect from someone who teaches bioethics at a major university and has a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science. But then again, few of the attacks lobbed by the guardians of the one and only true vaccine science are what you would characterize as articulate or of substance. Mostly, they are demands for dissenting Americans to just hush up and drink the Kool-Aid. Mostly, they’re rants.
Another case in point… an article by TIME magazine editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger creatively titled “Jim Carrey, Please Shut Up About Vaccines.”3 In that piece, Kluger paints Carrey and other actors as nothing more than “board-certified jesters,”3 as if their chosen profession defines them entirely and somehow precludes them from being intelligent, thoughtful human beings.
Here are a couple of excerpts from Kluger’s rant:
The anti-vax crowd has never been about reasoned argument or a cool-headed look at clinical science. They’ve been all about rage, all about echo-chamber misinformation. For every sensible action to boost vaccination rates, they have long been there, like a sort of perverse bit of Newtonian physics, with an equal and risible reaction.
Maybe that’s the reason they roll out pratfall comics [like Carrey] to plead their case—a bit of misdirection to hide the tragicomedy of their message behind the larger comedy of the messenger. Or maybe they’re the best they’ve got.3
Then there’s Amy Zimmerman’s piece in The Daily Beast titled “Jim Carrey’s Descent into Madness,”4 filled with yet more personal attacks and not a lick of substance. Are these people really reporters at all. Zimmerman cuts Carrey down to size by accusing him of hating dictionaries…
Misusing both “Cyclops” and “blue ball” in one rant was the most stupidly impressive thing Carrey has done since convincing himself that vaccines are bad for you. Carrey, who hates dictionaries but loves opposite day, is also an artist. Don’t believe me? Just ask Jim Carrey’s art, which includes huge Fiberglass sculptures, videos, projected twitter conversations, Pop portraits of Pamela Anderson…4
But back to Caplan. In his reference to the word “fascism,” Caplan is referring to Carrey’s June 30, 2015 tweets on his Twitter account branding Governor Brown as a “corporate fascist” for his signing of SB 277. To his 14 million Twitter followers, Carrey wrote, “California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in manditory vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped. Fascism is when a government imposes its will upon the people by fiat.”5
Caplan thinks that the branding is unfair and inaccurate. According to Caplan:
Nothing like that has happened in California—not even close. The legislature heard testimony, debated and then voted through the law to end liberal exemptions. Passing a law through the legislature and having the governor sign it is called democracy!
Democracy turned out to be very good for public health in California this week.1
Caplan did not address the democratic ethics of the substantial sums of money that the pharmaceutical industry invested in the political campaigns of the current members of the California Legislature, as well as the cash it spent lobbying the legislators and Governor Brown.
According to a June 18, 2015 article in The Sacramento Bee:
Pharmaceutical companies and their trade groups gave more than $2 million to current members of the Legislature in 2013-2014, about 2 percent of the total raised, records show. Nine of the top 20 recipients are either legislative leaders or serve on either the Assembly or Senate health committees. Receiving more than $95,000, the top recipient of industry campaign cash is Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and doctor who is carrying the vaccine bill.
In addition, the industry donated more than $500,000 to outside campaign spending groups that helped elect some current members last year.
Leading pharmaceutical companies also spent nearly $3 million more during the 2013-2014 legislative session lobbying the Legislature, the governor, the state pharmacists’ board and other agencies, according to state filings.6
Neither did Caplan disclose the fact that his own employer, the NYU Langone Medical Center, has had a working relationship to develop a malaria vaccine with one of the top vaccine manufacturers in the world, Merck & Co.7
Caplan did not mention that NYU Langone Medical Center has “Master Agreements” with numerous top pharmaceutical companies covering clinical trials—companies such as Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis, and others.8
Caplan failed to note that he was recently appointed by pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson to establish a board to make decisions on requests by terminally ill patients to have access to drugs that have not yet been approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).9 In fact, it was Caplan and Kenneth Moch, the CEO of the biopharmaceutical firm Chimerix, who led the way to proposing the panel in the first place.10
Conflicts of interest? Fair and balanced reporting by the media? You decide.
1 Caplan A. Ethicist: Why Jim Carrey is Wrong About Vaccines. NBC News July 1, 2015.
2 NYU School of Medicine. Arthur Caplan, PhD. NYU Langone Medical Center, Department of Population Health N.d.
3 Kluger J. Jim Carrey, Please Shut Up About Vaccines. TIME July 1, 2015.
4 Zimmerman A. Jim Carrey’s Descent into Madness. The Daily Beast July 1, 2015.
5 NBC News. Jim Carrey Brands California Governor ‘Fascist’ Over Vaccine Law. TIME July 1, 2015.
6 Miller J. Drug companies donated millions to California lawmakers before vaccine debate. The Sacramento Bee June 18, 2015.
7 The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, Merck, and NYU Langone Medical Center collaborate to research potential malaria vaccine. PATH Dec 14, 2010.
8 NYU School of Medicine. Master Clinical Trial Agreements. NYU Langone Medical Center, Office of Clinical Trials (OCT) N.d.
9 Thomas K. Company Creates Bioethics Panel on Trial Drugs. The New York Times May 7, 2015.
10 Kroll D. FDA Approves Merck’s PD-1 Inhibitor, Keytruda. Forbes Sept. 4, 2014.