Where 11 Celebrity Parents Stand on Vaccinating Their Kids
Kristen Bell chose to vaccinate her children, but not before doing extensive research: "I decided facts were my friends. I couldn’t rely on word-of-mouth, friend-of-a-friend information," she wrote in a column for The Huffington Post in 2015. "I wanted the truth." She went on to write that she learned vaccines do contain disease particles, but they are dead or severely weakened. "The immune system is far more effective when it knows how to identify and fight off what doesn’t belong. Vaccines are like a wanted poster hanging in the saloon. They train the bartender to spot the bad guys and kick them out," she wrote. "As to the benefits of vaccinations, it has been proven; they work. That’s enough for me to climb up on a soap box, make some ugly cardboard sign in my garage, and let other mothers know that it’s safe, important, and bigger than emotion: It’s the truth."
When her first daughter, Violet, was 2, mom-of-three Jennifer Garner was the national spokeswoman for the American Lung Association's "Faces of Influenza" education campaign. "I want to help make sure that all moms across the country understand that influenza is serious and that vaccination should be a family priority," said the actress, who emphasized that mothers play a key role in the health of their families. "It is our natural instinct to take care of our families and keep them protected. This includes talking to our doctors about whether influenza vaccination is right for ourselves and our loved ones."
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Julie Bowen, the mom of three who plays Claire Dunphy on Modern Family, had a trusted source to go to when she was deciding to vaccinate her kids: "I spoke with my sister, who is an infectious disease doctor—and then also with my own doctor and my pediatrician, who said to me: 'By not vaccinating your children, you're putting them at serious risk.’ That was it for me," she said in an interview with WebMD. "Once I made that decision, there were a few tears—mostly mine—but now all three boys are on regular vaccination schedules."
Keeping her family healthy is a top priority for Tia Mowry, actress and host of the Cooking Channel's Tia Mowry at Home—especially during flu season. "One thing that I make sure that my family is aware of is flu prevention and getting vaccinated annually," she told Parents.com. "The flu can really take a huge toll on the entire family, and we all know that once a mom is down or sick, it's like instant chaos."
And the flu can lead to other complications in children and adults that can make you sicker. "About one-third of cases of pneumonia are caused by respiratory viruses, the most common of which is influenza," Mark N. Simon, MD, Chief Medical Officer of OB Hospitalist Group, tells Parents.com. "The CDC notes that 80 percent of cases of pediatric flu [historically] are children who weren't vaccinated." Plus, he adds, "people who get the flu after being immunized tend to have a milder case and recover quicker."
Kristin Cavallari stirred up controversy when she admitted during an appearance on Fox News in 2014 that she hadn't vaccinated her son Camden. "At the end of the day, I'm just a mom. I'm trying to make the best decision for my kid," the reality star and shoe designer (who also has son Jaxon and daughter Saylor with football star husband Jay Cutler) said when she later defended her decision on Watch What Happens Live.
Vaccinating children to protect them against life-threatening diseases can cause mild, short-term side effects, such as redness and swelling at the injection site, fever, and rash, says Neal Halsey, M.D., a pediatrician and director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. But the most serious risks, such as severe allergic reactions, are far rarer than the diseases vaccines protect against. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the risk of a serious allergic reaction from most vaccines is one in 1 million doses.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Former Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar has made it her mission to kick pertussis' butt. "Having children is the greatest gift anyone's ever given me, and if I can help protect anyone else's gift, then it's not just my pleasure, but it's my responsibility to do it," the mom of two told Parade.com in 2013 when she partnered with the March of Dimes and vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasterus in “Sounds of Pertussis,” a campaign for adults to get their TDaP (tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis) booster shot.
In the U.S., the whooping cough vaccine is administered as part of the recommended immunization schedule for children. Children should be given the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine at least five times (at 2, 4, and 6 months, once between 15 and 18 months, and once between 4 and 6 years old). Teens, beginning at 11 to 12 years of age, and adults can receive a whooping cough vaccine called Tdap.
"Every person can say, 'Oh, I wanted to go visit my friend's newborn, but I had a cold so I didn't go.' Well, why would you also potentially expose them to something they can't fight? And the best way to stop the spread of pertussis is with the Tdap booster," Gellar says.
Mayim Bialik of Blossom fame was reported to have not vaccinated her two sons but in 2015, she tweeted "dispelling rumors abt my stance on vaccines. i'm not anti. my kids are vaccinated. so much anger and hysteria. i hope this clears things up [sic]."
In a 2012 interview with NPR, she said: "We researched every single vaccine, and we spoke about each individual vaccine with our pediatrician. We went to the CDC sources.The number of vaccines that you and I received when we were kids is a third or a fourth less than what kids get now."
Parents born in the 1970s and '80s were vaccinated against eight diseases. A fully vaccinated 2-year-old today, on the other hand, can beat back 14 diseases. So while kids now get more shots—especially since each vaccine usually requires multiple doses—they're also protected against almost twice as many diseases.
"It was pretty scary," Amanda Peet told People in 2012 about daughter Molly contracting whooping cough when she was 8 months old. "It took a long time to figure out what was wrong. No one would think it's whooping cough." The frightening situation prompted Peet (whose daughter was too young to receive her third recommended doses of the pertussis vaccine) to become a spokesperson for Every Child by Two, an organization that encourages vaccinations. The mom of three also became a global advocate for the UN Foundation's Shot@Life program, which works to provide vaccines for measles, pneumonia, diarrhea, and polio in developing countries. "The thing that moves me is that we have a cure for these diseases. We have the medicine—we just have to get it to the children."
Actress and humanitarian Salma Hayek has worked on behalf of eliminating maternal and newborn tetanus, a life-threatening disease that can be contracted during childbirth. "The thought of losing a child to a disease which can be easily prevented seems unbearable, especially when it is within our power to prevent it," said the mom to daughter Valentina and Unicef ambassador, who became the spokesperson for the the Pampers-UNICEF 'One Pack = One Vaccine' campaign in 2008. "If you knew how to help save a child's life, what could stop you?"
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that healthy children get vaccinated against 14 diseases by age 2 (with boosters later for some), along with an annual inoculation against the flu.
In her 2014 book The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning, Alicia Silverstone explained her anti-vaccination stance. "While there has not been a conclusive study of the negative effects of such a rigorous one-size-fits-all, shoot-'em-up schedule, there is increasing anecdotal evidence from doctors who have gotten distressed phone calls from parents claiming their child was 'never the same' after receiving a vaccine," she wrote.
"Parents often have a hard time reasonably assessing the risks involved because they've never had any experience with many of the diseases that vaccines prevent," Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of Baby 411, told Parents.com. "But I've seen children with serious cases of measles, mumps, and whooping cough, and I have seen a child die from chicken pox. I promise you that these are diseases you don't want your child to get."
Jenny McCarthy, whose son Evan was diagnosed with autism in 2005, has famously been a vocal critic of vaccines. In a 2010 interview with Frontline, McCarthy blamed her son's condition on the the MMR shot he received as a baby, among other vaccines.
This theory has been widely disproven. According to the CDC, there is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism. Experts believe that the association between the MMR shot and autism is almost certainly coincidental. Children get their first dose of the MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months, the age at which autism symptoms typically become noticeable, says Dr. Offit.