There is a lot of truth contained in the five seasons of The Brady Bunch: Davy Jones is fine, Marcia’s outfits are fly, and you can’t win an essay contest with a piece about how Jesse James was a hero. However, in the medical community, The Brady Bunch is not widely regarded as a substitute for peer-reviewed scientific research and thus offers no substantive evidence to the argument that measles is harmless.
But over in the festering anti-vaxxer Facebook community, measles enthusiasts are sharing a forty-year-old episode of the show called “Is There a Doctor in the House?” in which the Bradys get the measles and don’t die as evidence that no one has ever gotten the measles and died. According to NPR, in the episode, Carol Brady describes Peter’s symptoms as “‘a slight temperature, a lot of dots and a great big smile,’ because he gets to stay home from school for a few days.” The six Brady children all get to stay home with the measles. Hijinx and hilarity follow because the more accurate reflection of feverish, miserable children covered in painful rashes probably would have made for a pretty depressing episode.
The fact that this scenario took place on a four-decades-old sitcom about six stepsiblings who share one bathroom and still get along doesn’t stop anti-vaccination advocate and MD Dr. Toni Bark recommending the episode as truth to her admirers in lieu of science and medicine:
“People who are critical of vaccines bring the episode up often. It’s used in videos and memes and is cited by activists like Dr. Toni Bark, who testifies against vaccines in courts and at public hearings across the United States. To them, it aptly illustrates what they consider to be the harmlessness of the illness.”
“‘You stayed home like the Brady Bunch show. You stayed home. You didn’t go to the doctor,’ she says. “We never said, ‘Oh my God, your kid could die. Oh my God, this is a deadly disease.’ It’s become that.”
I’ll bet people whose kids died of measles in the 1960s, like Roald Dahl, would beg to differ. Now, Marcia Brady would like you to know that her kids are vaccinated and she would very much like to be excluded from this narrative:
“I was really concerned with that and wanted to get to the bottom of that, because I was never contacted,” she says.
“I think it’s really wrong when people use people’s images today to promote whatever they want to promote and the person’s image they’re using they haven’t asked or they have no idea where they stand on the issue,” she says, adding, “As a mother, my daughter was vaccinated.”
She also recalls her own experience with measles as being much more painful and realistic than the show’s depiction. I’d also like to go on the record as saying that Davy Jones didn’t come to my prom even though I repeatedly asked him.
At the time the episode aired, there were around 500 deaths a year attributed to the measles. The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, and by 1984, the number of deaths attributed to measles was just one. Recently, 29 people were hospitalized from measles complications in New York City. Six of them were placed in the ICU. Two pregnant women in the city have contracted the virus, which could have severe effects on their babies.
According to Lloyd J. Schwartz, son of Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of The Brady Bunch, all of the Schwartz children were vaccinated:
“‘Dad would be sorry, because he believed in vaccination, had all of his kids vaccinated,’ he says.”