In a real drag bit of news for fans of top-shelf eyeliner and science, tattoo artist and makeup genius Kat Von D revealed that she’s against vaccines in an Instagram post Thursday night. Von D, who recently announced her pregnancy with new husband Leafar Seyer of the band Prayers, wrote about feeling judged for the choices she’s making as an expectant parent: planning a home birth, using a midwife, being vegan, and not vaccinating. In this order: Yes, sure, okay... Kat, what the hell?
Von D’s post begins, reasonably enough, “I knew the minute we announced our pregnancy that we would be bombarded with unsolicited advice.” She then lists all the things she feels that she and Seyer (a stage name; he’s also known by his birth name, Rafael Reyes) are being judged for:
“And, if you don’t know what it’s like to have the entire world openly criticize, judge, throw uninformed opinions, and curse you - try being an openly pregnant vegan on Instagram, having a natural, drug-free home birth in water with a midwife and doula, who has the intention of raising a vegan child, without vaccinations.”
This is what journalists like to call “burying the lede,” and it’s a bit of a mystery: While Von D has been a committed vegan and animal rights advocate for a long time, anti-vaccine sentiments don’t go hand-in-hand with those views. Nor is she, to our knowledge, a Scientologist, whose celebrity members tend to be vocal vaccine opponents.
The issue here is that anti-vaccine sentiments from celebrities can really directly harm public health: Jenny McCarthy famously became the face of anti-vaccine celebrity parenthood in the mid-2000s, when she blamed her son’s autism diagnosis, in part, on the MMR vaccine, which vaccine opponents often single out as being especially dangerous. The effect of anti-vax sentiment in that time period was noticeable and it was devastating: In 2006, the first child in England in more than a decade died from measles; in 2008, the United States reported 131 measles cases in the first half of the year alone, more than had been seen at any time since 1996.
Vaccine rates started to tick back up after 2010, when a fraudulent study linking MMR to autism was retracted. But anti-vaccine sentiments, especially in wealthy areas of the United States, are still a big problem: the number of parents in Maine opting not to vaccinate their kindergarteners have increased alarmingly. Oregon, too, is seeing a big increase in non-medical vaccine exemptions for kindergarteners.
If the Kat Von D news is revealing a closet anti-vaxxer in your own life, maybe one who’s worried that infants get “too many vaccines at once” (a very common line of argument), here’s a good post from the Scientific Parent about why that’s total nonsense.
Von D’s full post is below. She’s requesting “amazing positive energy” from her followers, but maybe a slideshow on how we successfully eradicated polio would also be in order?
Update, 4 p.m.:
And now we have a clue as to how, perhaps, Von D and Seyer became anti-vaccine: they’ve been watching documentaries full of bad science and questionable facts. On Instagram Stories, Seyer shared links to two anti-vaccine films, Vaxxed and Trace Amounts.
Vaxxed was briefly included in the Tribeca Film Festival lineup a couple years ago, at co-founder Robert De Niro’s insistence, then pulled after an enormous public outcry. Both it and Trace Amounts are heavily touted by anti-vaccine sites like Age of Autism and the ironically-named Thinking Moms Revolution. (A secret campaign in 2015 seems to have successfully persuaded a whole lot of celebrities to watch it.)
There are literally hundreds of articles and peer-reviewed studies that debunk the claims made in these films. (Here’s a very basic primer on anti-vaccine myths.) Von D, however, per a comment on her Instagram, seems to be most persuaded by the theory that pharmaceutical companies and the medical industry promote vaccines for nefarious, greedy reasons.
That is, again, not true. Vaccines are one of the most regulated medical products in the world, and in the United States, vaccine policy is overseen by a safety commission (albeit one that is often dismissed by vaccine opponents because it’s backed by the FDA, which they believe is evil.)
Vaccines aren’t profitable for most doctors, as one study demonstrated, but quite the opposite. Vaccines aren’t even particularly lucrative for the pharmaceutical industry and make up only a tiny portion of their profits each year.
None of this easily findable information will make the slightest difference to vaccine skeptics, of course, but that doesn’t make it less true. Vaccinate your kids.