JLo supports reality

By Phil Plait | January 5, 2010 3:29 pm

I am not all that big on celebrity endorsements, but I do understand that they can be very beneficial in getting the word out on important topics ot people who might not otherwise hear it.

So I’m pleased to see that Jennifer Lopez did a short video about the benefits of vaccination against pertussis for a website called Sounds of Pertussis (created by the vaccine division of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Aventis). The video calmly and rationally explains why it’s important to vaccinate for pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

Regular readers know my stance on this: pertussis can kill, as parents David and Toni McCaffery found out when their four-week-old daughter Dana died from it in 2009 — she was infected because not enough people had vaccinated their children, and the herd immunity in that area of Australia was too low. It’s important to talk to your physician about this and find out if you should vaccinate yourself and your loved ones.

The antivaxxers are loud about this issue, of course. Meryl Dorey and her Australian Vaccination Network have spread misinformation far and wide on this issue, even saying that pertussis doesn’t kill anyone… a statement that is so clearly false that it’s difficult to believe someone could honestly utter it. No doubt the antivaxxers will ooze out of the woodwork in the comments below — they always do — and make all sorts of similar false claims. And also no doubt we’ll see the attempts to poison the well by saying the JLo video was produced by a — gasp — pharmaceutical company!

Like Ben Goldacre, I am not a huge fan of a lot of the tactics used by those companies to sell drugs. But that doesn’t mean everything they do is wrong. Vaccinations, as I feel I must point out over and again, have saved hundreds of millions of lives, a number so huge it’s awe-inspiring. But so many antivaxxers seem to want to see us return to the days when children died of measles, when kids were confined to iron lungs when they couldn’t breathe due to polio, and people died by the millions from smallpox and other preventable diseases.

Antivaxxers are wrong. The data are overwhelming that their arguments are false. Vaccines save lives, countless lives. Talk to your physician. Please.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (62)

  1. Antivaxxer
  2. Listening to a baby with with who have it makes me sad.


  3. MJBUtah

    I was also reminded recently how important it is for even adults to get their shots, as one of my good friends recently developed whooping cough and has been told that it can take up to 6 months to fully recover. Despite working at a school and with children it never occured to her that she should be getting boosters on everything, not just tetanus.

  4. I cannot understand how anyone could be against vaccinations. The evidence for them is both conclusive and easy to understand, and I just don’t see how any moral or rational person can spread lies about them!

  5. Petrolonfire

    Well I’ve always supported J-Lo! Mainly for reasons entirely un-associated with her intellect but still .. 😉

    I’ll do so even more now. See not all celebrities are as guillible & brainlessly anti-science as Jenny McCarthy & Oprah Winfrey. 😉

    I wonder – did a certain plasma cosmology-loving frequent famous poster here take his nom de plume from a certain B-grade J-Lo movie?
    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaconda_(film)

  6. I too have an adult friend who came down with whooping cough not long ago. Fortunately, she’s fine now, but we did have some real scares. My friend said she had been vaccinated as a child, but that the immunity for pertussis can wear off. Has anyone heard about that? The only boosters I’ve gotten as an adult are for tetanus and polio (because I rotated through a polio lab in grad school).

  7. Lisa

    I went to a “clinic” near my house that “treats” among other things, autistic children. The RN that runs the clinic gave a talk about alternatives to vaccine, although her only alternative seems to be to not get them. She also uses homeopathic remedies to treat these kids. Very sick stuff. She seems to think that measles, chicken pox, and mumps are all rites of passage for children. She did the usual homage to Wakefield and blamed thimerasol…you know the routine. I knew these people existed, but to actually hear that stuff live and in person was astounding and very sad.

  8. kevbo

    “I am not all that big on celebrity endorsements” ? Yeah, you say that now, but just wait until you’re a big TV star…

  9. “…but that the immunity for pertussis can wear off. Has anyone heard about that?”

    Yes. This happened to my wife and me about twenty years ago. We were told that it was mild, and perhaps it was, but the symptomatic persistent coughing was beyond endurance. So that we could sleep, we were were given prescriptions for a tincture of methadone that worked like magic.

    The coughing can literally last months, and by the time we were ready to do without the drug we were for all intents and purposes, addicted, and spent the worst five days of our lives in withdrawal, a process I would not recommend for its entertainment value.

    What irritates me the most is that we were never advised that we might be vulnerable to pertussis, despite the fact that our health care providers knew we traveled a great deal at that time in the developing world, as we were routinely being immunized for tropical diseases by them.

  10. Ah, this reminds me that while on the bus earlier I was headline surfing over another man’s shoulder and saw the news that Avoiding Chickenpox Vaccine Has Consequences.

    Also I’ve been looking recently for a place to link Special fevers, mitochondria and autism which showed up in a saved Google News search for the term mitochondria.

  11. agentsarahjane

    It’s too bad that we lay-people have to be careful and exercise caution when accepting sought after medical advice but when it comes to something so awful as autism, it’s even worse because reasoning is can be weakened by the emotional stress . This will make them susceptible to the sway of ilk like Lisa’s anecdotal ghoul of a nurse. In this case J-Lo should be commended… perhaps buy one of her cd’s or rent one of her flicks? 😛

  12. Gwenny

    My daughter got licensed as a child care giver and they recommended she get boosters for everything.

  13. @Lisa

    You think that’s sick? A friend of mine asked me what I thought of treating her autistic son with porcine stem cells. I said I was dubious. What were the stem cells supposed to do? Grow into new neurons? Even if that could work, I’ve never heard that autistic kids have fewer brain cells. Plus, wouldn’t that be an awfully invasive treatment? Turns out, this company was going to mail her the stem cells, at considerable expense, for her to mix with his apple sauce. He was supposed to eat the stuff!

    Can anyone think of anyway this wasn’t a complete and utter fraud perpetrated on desperate parents? My blood still boils thinking about it.

  14. BTW, I should have put ‘stem cells’ in quotes because I don’t believe for a minute that’s what my friend would have gotten in the mail.

  15. Beryl

    Apparently, whooping cough vaccines last about 5 to 10 years–I didn’t quickly find a definitive source on this. I went to China as a 21-year-old only having had the childhood vaccine. I got something that was almost surely whooping cough (language barrier problems with the diagnosis). It took me about two and a half months to feel basically normal, and I had strained rib muscles that bothered me for years. Adult whooping cough is no fun. I need a booster. You may too.

  16. One thing whooping cough can do is starve the brain of oxygen, making children who are mildly autistic become (guess what) severely autistic.

  17. Leander

    “JLo supports reality”

    You make it sound like a bloody soda. Seriously, your relationship with that word and concept, a never-ending source of amaze- and entertainment.

  18. t-storm

    Reality = a real thing or fact.

    Concept = a general notion or idea.

    She supports the fact that vaccines work, save lives, and are generally helpful. the data supports this, therefore it is real.

  19. zamia

    I received a vaccination for whooping cough when they first came out. Two of the unvaccinated children in my first grade class were sick with whooping cough for 6 weeks.

    The patient ‘whoops’ until they can’t vomit anymore and then has dry heaves. Parents are up in the middle of the night holding their heads and tending them.

    My little grandson was sick yesterday, vomiting all day. His mother thinks that was a long time. No patient or care-giver needs 6 weeks of it.

  20. Charlie Young

    I got my pertussis booster with my tetanus booster just last fall. My physician said that all adults are now recommended to get the two every ten years.

  21. Lobsang Rampa

    I caught pertussis when I was 18 and I still remember the experience very vividly. First, you wake up in the middle of the night with a horrible cough. But this is no ordinary cough… It’s strong and the “whooping” you hear is people *gasping* for air. The cough is so strong it blocks your capability to breathe. Ever vomited? Remember that sensation of being unable to breathe? Now imagine that sensation repeating over and over and over again.

    I can’t imagine how stupid someone needs to be not to vaccinate their kids against it.

  22. Gary Ansorge

    IO always liked JLos acting but now I think I’m in love.

    Cool. Beauty, brains and an appreciation of knowledge.

    Gary 7

  23. Fly44d

    I also caught pertussis, but in my 40’s. The whooping is horrible and my throat never fully recovered from the rawness. 5 yrs later and I can’t inhale sharply. I had the vaccine as a kid, but they said it will wear off. By the time it was diagnosed, I had been in contact with hundreds of people in airports and work. Herd immunity is very important! A child should never suffer this needlessly!

  24. Michel

    So aussies live in herds.
    You learn something new every day on this website.
    Love it!

  25. Raj Bhosley

    Kathy Orlinsky wrote: Turns out, this company was going to mail her the stem cells, at considerable expense, for her to mix with his apple sauce. He was supposed to eat the stuff!

    In the words of my people: AAAARRRRRGH! The stupidity! It burns! It burns!

    It reminds me of a certain “health food” that listed DNA as an ingredient.

  26. Raj Bhosley

    My downloaded video and pictures of J-Lo in That Infamous Dress she wore at the Grammys will now be seen in a new light.

  27. complex field

    Strictly as Devil’s Advocate, wouldn’t ending vaccinations altogether potentially reduce the world’s population to sustainable levels? Not that I endorse such measures (I do not). Just wondering.

    BTW: what is the recommended booster regime for children?

  28. It’s always pleasing when a Class-A celebrity turns out not to be a Class-A loon.

  29. Raj Bhosley

    @Kathy Orlinsky:

    Porcine Stem Cell Rinds!

    Another fine product from RajCo!

    (Now available at the snack section of your local grocery store.)

  30. Mike

    Complex field requested ‘what is the recommended booster regime for children?’ Do a Google search and ‘baby center’ will be one of the hits, there is a chart with the recommended regime.

  31. Peter B

    Complex field asked: “Strictly as Devil’s Advocate, wouldn’t ending vaccinations altogether potentially reduce the world’s population to sustainable levels? Not that I endorse such measures (I do not). Just wondering.”

    Probably not, because in most parts of the world, medical treatment is such that you’d probably survive the illness. This is the one of the important things to understand about vaccines: anti-vaccine advocates pointed out that death rates from various infectious diseases dropped in the 1920s and 1930s, well before vaccines for those diseases were introduced, thanks to better medical care. The problem is that the infection rates didn’t drop. Also, avoiding death meant that people might either survive with severe disabilities, or spend months recuperating in hospital, or both.

    Also, one response that people have to death by disease is to have larger families, to increase the chance that some children will survive to adulthood.

    If you want to reduce the Earth’s population to sustainable levels, there are much simpler and cheaper ways of doing it, like providing access to contraceptives and good medical care, such as vaccines. That way, women can have fewer children, and be confident they’ll survive to adulthood.

    “BTW: what is the recommended booster regime for children?”

    Ask your local Health Department or Doctor.

  32. One thing to point out when examining the comments about the vaccine-granted immunity wearing off, “naturally”-gained immunity (i.e., through infection with pertussis) also wears off:

    Neither the vaccine nor the illness provide complete or lifetime immunity. Immunity gained by either vaccination or infection wanes, or decreases, after 10 or 11 years

    @Complex field

    Take a look at the AAP or CDC web sites, where you can find the recommended schedule of vaccines, including follow-up/booster shots.

  33. Brian The Coyote

    About 10 years ago Pertusis nearly killed me. I had been vaccinated but I was exposed to it in hospital when I was being treated for a severe allergic reaction in the ER so they were trying to put down my immune system and a child in the next bed had a bad case of whooping cough that I learned later was particularly virulent.

    The coughing was indescribable. You cough so hard that you don’t inhale and eventually black out. I was off work for 3 months and spent 3 bouts in the hospital on a ventilator and it was about a year before I could say I was back to normal. All this in an otherwise very healthy man in his 30’s. I can’t imagine how all that must feel to a child or someone who is physically comprimised is some way.

    Now, ten years later, when I get a chest infection the spasmodic coughing comes back and the gasping for breath comes with it. So don’t take this disease lightly.

  34. Donovan

    It’s funny McCarthy thinks modern medicine is more than capable of changing her tatas any time she wants, but is dangerous for, well, medicine. Perhaps if we handed out a free DVD of “The Stupids” with every vaccination, McCarthy would be all in favor of them?

  35. Actually, I think it’s funnier that she’s against “toxins” in vaccines but will willingly have herself injected with Botox, the most toxic substance known to mankind (according to Wikipedia).

    Jenny McCarthy on Botox: “I love Botox, I absolutely love it. I get it minimally so I can still move my face. But I really do think it’s a saviour.”

    Injecting deadly toxins into your face to prevent wrinkles? A savior!
    Injecting trace amounts of “toxins” into your child with substances that will fend off deadly diseases? No Way!!!

  36. Surprisingly this article is the only one on Discover tagged ‘Jennifer Lopez’.

  37. Tom

    I caught pertussis in my 40’s, the whooping is horrible and like others here, difficult to recover from. After 5 years I still have trouble inhaling quickly since my airways were raw from the coughing and whooping. It wasn’t until the third trip to the doctor that it was diagnosed and by then I had exposed probably hundreds of people in airports and work. Herd immunity is important! No child should suffer this needlessly!

  38. John Keller


    I think instead of saying, “The data are overwhelming that their arguments are false”

    I feel you should state, “There are no data supporting their arguments”

  39. Gus Snarp

    My father worked with a doctor who was one of the last cases of Polio in the United States before it was effectively wiped out by vaccination. His wasted and useless legs made quite an impact on me as a young child. My son was vaccinated, and the next will be too. It’s sad that it may take the return of diseases like this to have that impact on people before they will listen to reason.

  40. Dawn

    Although never officially diagnosed, I had what I believe was pertussis about 7 years ago. (My doctor called it bronchitis, and put me on antibiotics). However, I couldn’t say more than 3 words in succession without beginning to cough, and would then proceed to cough until I was breathless – and sometimes I would cough until I vomited repeatedly. My rib muscles were so sore, and I needed cough syrup with codeine to be able to eat/drink/sleep/work, since any activity would start the coughing. No one thought of pertussis at that time. I got a DTaP this year. My kids are up to date with their DTaP (2005).

  41. Greg

    I was wondering if someone could explain (nicely please) why “herd immunity” is important. I admit I am rather ignorant on the subject but it would seem to be that if I am vaccinated then I should be fine. So how does my neighbor not being vaccinated affect me who is vaccinated?

  42. JimB

    Some people can’t be vaccinated due to allergies to some component of the vaccine. Or due to age, it takes a while before your children have all of the their vaccinations.

    Herd immunity kicks in to help protect these people. If the disease can’t find a way into the herd, those not immunized are still (somewhat) protected.

  43. Lawrence

    @Greg – because vacinations aren’t 100% effective. Herd immunity keeps a disease from taking root within a population, meaning that people who either aren’t vaccinated (because they can’t be) or whose those immunities aren’t up to snuff (because of other disease like HIV or just didn’t take) can still be protected.

    Once herd immunity drops below a certain percentage, it is more likely that a disease will spread, even to those who already got vaccinated.

  44. Smart_Cookie

    I sat at last year’s TAM and listened to the anti-vaxxer talks. I sat there thinking how you could fight fire with fire, and I thought, why not get some other real celebs with children to come out in favour of vaccines.
    I mean, they love their kids too. I started writing down possible names.

    J. Lo was on the list. Along with folks like Julia Roberts, Christina Agulera, Nicole Ritchie, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman. I mean, the list goes on and on.

    Maybe someone could still put together a PSA with this tactic. Or at least compile a list of celeb parents who’ve come out publicly in favor of vaccines.

  45. @Greg

    If you visit antiantivax.flurf.net (linked in my name), I have a link under other resources to an article explaining herd immunity. JimB and Lawrence already addressed the issue that vaccines are not 100% effective, so there is a small chance that an individual will not gain immunity from the vaccine.

  46. I recently had my 30-year wellness check-up with my doctor and discovered I was overdue for my tetanus, and gladly bared my arm for the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) booster. I had to sign a disclaimer in case my insurance company didn’t want to pay for it (apparently, sometimes there is an argument?!), but I figure I should practice what I preach and get every vaccine appropriate for me. While I was there, I also got the H1N1 vaccine. And I made sure to tell as many people as I could that I’d gotten shot and why it was so important for them to do so, too. Now I have another weapon in my arsenal: “JLo says you should.”

  47. TheBlackCat

    @ Greg: If you are curious exactly how herd immunity works, basically the idea is that immunizing enough people prevent the virus from spreading. If you think about it, if an infected person on average infects one other person, the virus will keep its current infection level forever because for every person who dies or recovers one other is infected to replace him or her. If, on average, an infected person infects more than one person (even 1.00000001 people), the number of infected people will grow. If, on average, an infected person infects less than one person the number of infected people will drop (although it may not drop to zero). The more above one the average number infected is, the faster the virus will spread. The more below one the average number infected is, the faster the virus will die out.

    By vaccinating people, what you are really doing is reducing the chance that an infected person will spread the virus to someone else. You are reducing the number of potential people each infected person could spread the virus to. So the goal is not necessarily to vaccinate everyone, that is not possible in practice. Instead, the goal is to vaccinate enough people that the virus cannot effectively move through the population.

    Let’s say, for example, a virus has a 1 in 100 chance of infecting a given person when that person encounters someone infected. And lets, say, that a given infected person will, on average, have 1000 encounters with people while contagious. That means each infected person will spread the virus to 10 people on average. Some might spread it to a few more, other to a few less, but over the population this averages out. Such a virus will spread quickly through the population.

    Now let’s say 95% of the population is effectively vaccinated, so 5% is either unvaccinated or the vaccine did not take hold. That means that that each infected person will still encounter 1000 people, but only 50 of them will be actually susceptible to the virus. Now, for every infected person the virus will only spread to 0.5 people on average, or only half of infected people will spread the virus. This virus will lose half its population ever iteration, and will eventually go extinct.

  48. Anthony

    Glad to hear J-Lo supports vaccination, but isn’t she a member of Scientology? Sometime ago, I overheard she used scientology to help get pregnant.

  49. Pete

    My son, contracted pertussis when he was just a few weeks old, he was very very ill, we went to doctors, who had never really encountered it, we went to the hospital who sent us home accusing us of being bad parents and my wife of suffering with postnatal depression. We had health visitors paying us visits and dismissed the depression as she knew us very well as it was our forth child. 3 months of this persistant cough which caused my son to turn blue and 3 visits to hospital, we were being discharged from the hospital when my son coughed infront of a doctor who put down the half filled in discharge forms and said, Mr and Mrs XXXXX your son has pertussis, or whooping cough. We said it had been going on for 3 months and no one believed us that he was ill. Sometimes seemingly critically ill. He explained that the cough was called the 100 day cough. All our children are vacinated but he caught it long before even the first vacinations are given. If all children had been vaccinated in the area, my son would never have been put through as it happened 104 days of coughing, sometimes to the point of turning blue.

    The sad thing about all the fuss about autism etc. is that my second born has autism, but not because of any vaccines, because his grandfather has it, I have aspergers (part of the ASD spectrum) and it is plain and simply explained by hereditary genes, which sometimes skip a generation, or occasionally it can be caused by other issues, like brain injuries etc.

    I had measles as a child (pre vaccine creation) and it is one of my earliest memories (2 years old) of being very ill, and screaming when a doctor came in and opened some curtains. (light sensitivity). It is not great when as an adult this is your earliest memory.

    Please all parents of children, for the sake of other people, and for the sake of your own children, I know what I am talking about, please vacinate your children. Months and months of grief (and in the worse case years) can be saved by a couple of injections.

  50. BAMom

    How can it be that neither Phil in his blog nor anyone in their comments has mentioned the sponsorship of Ms. JLo’s message by The March of Dimes. This organization has done more for our babies health than any other. First they took on the fight against polio during the FDR years and stuck with it through the Salk years. After this monumental success, they turned their highly organized abilities to the fight for “Well Babies” which is still ongoing. This includes education, sponsoring medical research, vaccinations, etc. I volunteered with the MOD year round for almost 40 years in a variety of ways including going into high schools and talking to the students about preventing pregnancy,drugs and pregnancy, and the need for prenatal care. I implore you to support the MOD in their work to protect your children.

  51. David McCaffery

    Thanks for being ‘that’ voice of reason and a great support to my wife Toni & I. We think you’re a bloody champion! (Aussie for the best)
    Jennifer Lopez’s work for the ‘Sounds of Pertussis’ has been inspirational and she deserves praise for her stand. On behalf of my family, especially beautiful little Dana, thanks J Lo.
    Amanda Peet has been terrific too.
    Watch her good work here @ http://www.vaccinateyourbaby.org/

  52. Travis

    Got my booster back in April. Hopefully I’m good for awhile.

  53. Teshi

    Autism is surrounded by craziness, even outside of so-called medical treatments.

  54. Greg

    Thanks, Lawerence, Todd, and TheBlackCat. That makes a bit more sense.

  55. Brian the Coyote


    Sounds like you probably did. As I mentioned in my post my getting Whooping Cough was due to a bunch of odd circumstances and I may not have been diagnosed if it hadn’t been for my doctor who had worked in Africa and recognized my “whooping”. Codeine didn’t cut it for me and they gave me some very strong narcotic cough meds. Staring at the wall for several hours had never been son interesting.

  56. Wendy

    I’m not sure the phrase “supports reality” should ever follow ANY Scientologist’s name.

  57. Wendy, she’s not a Scientologist. Her dad is.

  58. yolanda

    i think vaccine the children is necesary ,went i was a kids my mom bring me to vaccine,and health is too much important for all.

  59. yolanda

    is important every one vaccine ,congratulation jlo for career


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar