Jessica Biel is many things: actor, mom, wife to Justin Timberlake, consummate ab-shower, purveyor of the theory that being hotter than Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman has ruined her career. This week, however, the world became aware of another credential on Biel’s resume: anti-vaccine activist.
In an Instagram post, prominent anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. revealed that he had met with Biel at the California State Assembly to lobby against SB 276, a California bill that aims to limit medical exemptions for vaccines unless parents have the approval of a state public health officer. In response to the uproar, Biel denied being opposed to vaccination, writing in an Instagram post, “I am not against vaccinations — I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians.”
But in a post on Jezebel, a legislative staffer in the California State Capitol who allegedly was present at the meeting between Biel and Kennedy said that Biel had said she did not adhere to a regular vaccine schedule for her child, due to her belief that vaccination was linked to a friend’s child’s illness, and that she had admitted to trying to find a doctor who would agree to delaying vaccines for her child. (This practice, “doctor shopping,” is something that SB 276 is in large part attempting to curb.)
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This week I went to Sacramento to talk to legislators in California about a proposed bill. I am not against vaccinations — I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians. My concern with #SB276 is solely regarding medical exemptions. My dearest friends have a child with a medical condition that warrants an exemption from vaccinations, and should this bill pass, it would greatly affect their family’s ability to care for their child in this state. That’s why I spoke to legislators and argued against this bill. Not because I don’t believe in vaccinations, but because I believe in giving doctors and the families they treat the ability to decide what’s best for their patients and the ability to provide that treatment. I encourage everyone to read more on this issue and to learn about the intricacies of #SB276. Thank you to everyone who met with me this week to engage in this important discussion!
In truth, Biel’s argument for families “having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children” is common among those skeptical of vaccines. (Many do not self-identify as anti-vaxxers, considering the term something of a slur, instead preferring to use such euphemistic terms such as “vaccine risk-aware.”)
In response to such arguments, however, most public health experts cite the enormous body of research suggesting that mandatory vaccination is critical to maintaining herd immunity and preventing vulnerable members of the population from becoming sick with preventable child illnesses. Indeed, in the wake of the controversy over Biel’s post, many argued that it was dangerous for prominent celebrities to adopt such positions, particularly in light of the measles outbreaks happening across the country due to declining vaccination rates.
In light of Biel’s fall from (let’s be honest, semi) A-list grace, here’s a compendium of celebrities who have publicly endorsed similarly vaccine-critical views. While few of these individuals identify as anti-vaccine, they have either come out as not having vaccinated their children, are critical of mandatory vaccination or have endorsed such views, or have made dangerous and unproven claims about vaccines in general.
Kristin Cavallari: The reality TV star appeared on Fox News in 2014 and said that she had not vaccinated her son Camden. “Listen, to each their own,” she said. “I understand both sides of it. I’ve ready too many books about autism and there’s some scary statistics out there. It’s our personal choice.”
Alicia Silverstone: 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, the Clueless actress (who has previously suggested that tampons cause infertility and that veganism can reduce the risk of miscarriage) was highly critical of vaccination, saying “there has not been a conclusive study of the negative effects of such a rigorous one-size-fits-all, shoot-’em-up schedule.” (The Centers for Disease Control would disagree, saying numerous peer-reviewed studies have pointed to the efficacy and relative safety of vaccines.) “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. And I personally have friends whose babies were drastically affected in this way,” she wrote.
Jenny McCarthy: Possibly the most highly visible anti-vaxxer in Hollywood, McCarthy has a son who was diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half and has been a vocal advocate for her belief that his diagnosis is attributable to the MMR vaccine. Like many others, she has disputed the label “anti-vaccine,” telling PBS Frontline, “We’re not an anti-vaccine movement. We’re pro-safe-vaccine schedule.”
Jim Carrey: Carrey, who dated McCarthy from 2005 to 2010, has also publicly come out against mandatory vaccination, writing in the Huffington Post in 2009: “In this growing crisis, we cannot afford to blindly trumpet the agenda of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or vaccine makers. Now more than ever, we must resist the urge to close this book before it’s been written.” He has also blasted Gov. Jerry Brown, calling him a “fascist” in 2015 for signing a law mandating vaccines for all school-aged children regardless of their parents religious’ beliefs.
— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) April 14, 2016
Greed trumps reason again as Gov Brown moves closer to signing vaccine law in Cali. Sorry kids. It's just business. ;^[
— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) June 27, 2015
Bill Maher : The famously contrarian standup comedian and TV host (who has also endorsed prominent figures in the AIDS denialism movement) is, unsurprisingly, similarly skeptical about mandatory vaccination. He tweeted in opposition to the swine flu shot at the peak of the epidemic in 2009, has featured prominent vaccine critic RFK Jr. on his show, and railed against mandated vaccination in an interview with former Sen. (and physician) Bill Frist, saying, “Why would you let [the government] be the ones to stick a disease into your arm? I would never get a swine flu vaccine, or any vaccine. I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.”
In an interview with the Winnipeg Sun in 2009, Maher clarified his stance on vaccines — kind of. “I’m not a germ theory denier. I believe vaccinations can work. Polio is a good example. Do I think in certain situations that inoculating Third World children against malaria or diphtheria, or whatever, is right? Of course. In a situation like that, the benefits outweigh costs. But to me living in Los Angeles? To get a flu shot? No.”
Rob Schneider: The former SNL and Deuce Bigalow star has made numerous public statements lobbying against mandatory vaccination. In 2012, he cited the widely debunked belief that vaccines are linked to autism in his opposition to a California bill requiring parents get a signature from a physician to opt out of their child receiving vaccinations. “The parents have to be the ones who make the decisions for what’s best for our kids,” he told a local news station at the time. “It can’t be the government saying that.” Schneider’s views on vaccines are so widely known that in 2018, State Farm pulled an ad featuring Schneider in response to uproar from pro-science groups.
Lisa Bonet: Perhaps one of the few celebrities to speak out against mandatory vaccination, the former Cosby Show star and mom to Zoe Kravitz told The Donahue Show host Phil Donahue in 1990 that vaccines could potentially “introduce alien microorganisms into our children’s blood,” with such terrifying (and completely unconfirmed) potential long-term effects as “cancer, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, sudden infant death syndrome.” (For what it’s worth, her former husband Lenny Kravitz doesn’t seem to share these views, partnering with UNICEF in 2013 to call for vaccination to bring an end to preventable child deaths.)
Toni Braxton: The “Unbreak My Heart” singer wrote in her 2014 memoir that her son Diezel receiving the MMR vaccine may have contributed to his developing autism. “Maybe it’s just a coincidence that after my son’s first MMR vaccine, I began to notice changes in him,” she wrote. (Her book also claimed that his autism was God’s punishment for her having previously gotten an abortion.)
Selma Blair: In 2015, the Cruel Intentions star lobbied against SB277, the California bill to remove personal belief exemptions. On Twitter, she said that while she had vaccinated her own child, “parental choice is our right. Most vaccinate. Let us choose.”
I have. Parental choice is our right. Most vaccinate. Let us choose. https://t.co/2GmEK2C9u8
— Selma Blair (@SelmaBlair) June 29, 2015
Jenna Elfman: The actress, best known for the 1990s sitcom Dharma and Greg, was also a vocal opponent of SB277. “I’m not anti-vax,” she wrote on Twitter in 2015. “Parents should vaccinate their children as much as they wish to in accordance with current law. It’s THEIR RIGHT.”
It is perhaps worth noting that much like Juliette Lewis and That 70s Show Danny Masterson, who also came out against the 2015 bill, Elfman is a Scientologist. (The Church of Scientology does not have a public stance on vaccines; earlier this spring, however, a Scientologist cruise ship was put under quarantine in the island of Curaçao due to a confirmed measles case onboard.)
— danny masterson (@dannymasterson) May 18, 2015
I'm not anti-vax. Parents should vaccinate their children as much as they wish to in accordance with current law. It's THEIR RIGHT. #SB277
— ⚡️JENNA ELFMAN⚡️ (@JennaElfman) May 14, 2015
I like my freedoms. I like my rights. Freedom of choice, voice,religion,thought,expression. But… https://t.co/vM4fUKW1Ik
— Juliette Lewis (@JulietteLewis) March 1, 2015
Charlie Sheen: Well, this one’s not super surprising: the famously mercurial (get it? because vaccines?) actor reportedly got in an altercation in 2008 with his ex-wife Denise Richards over giving their daughters, Sam and Lola, their childhood immunizations. Sheen was apparently so opposed to his children receiving the shots that Sheen’s attorney had to get involved.
Mayim Bialik: The Big Bang Theory star and natural parenting advocate has a complicated relationship with vaccines. While she has previously said her family is a “non-vaccinating” one and plugged books by anti-vaccine activist Dr. Bob Sears, among others, she appeared to walk back on her stance on vaccines in 2015, tweeting, “I’m not anti. My kids are vaccinated. So much anger and hysteria. I hope this clears things up.” She then followed up with a post that appeared to advocate more explicitly for vaccine “freedom,” writing, “Do your research. Do what’s right for you.”
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.
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) February 11, 2015
honestly, people. do your research. do what's right for you. let me live my life and you live yours. no one gets… http://t.co/LdghmwZgLz
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) February 11, 2015
Robert DeNiro: This one’s a heartbreaker: in 2017, the legendary actor (who has also publicly questioned whether vaccines are linked to autism and promoted the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed) partnered with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in a press conference for the World Mercury Project (now the Children’s Health Defense), a nonprofit organization known for its anti-vaccine stance. During the press conference, Kennedy offered journalists a $100,000 reward if they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that levels of thimerosal, a mercury-based, naturally occurring element used as a preservative in vaccines, are safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “data from many studies show no evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines.”
Kat Von D: In 2018, Von D announced in an Instagram post that she did not plan on vaccinating her first child; her husband, musician Leafar Sayer, also posted links to two anti-vaccine films, Vaxxed and Trace Amounts, on Instagram. She later (again, kind of) clarified her stance: “I am not an anti-vaxxer,” she said in a YouTube video earlier this year. “What I am is a first-time mother. I am one of those moms that reads everything. Anything that is going in my baby or on my baby, I research like a complete and total nerd. After doing a bunch of research and reading the ingredients, naturally I experienced some hesitancy.” (It’s unclear whether she did end up vaccinating her son, who was born in December.)
Kevin Gates: In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, the rapper said that he believed his children were advanced in school (or “accelerated,” in his terms) largely because they had not been vaccinated.
Donald Trump: The President of the United States spent a good portion of the 2010s railing against mandatory vaccination and propagating the claim that vaccines are linked to autism. “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!,” he famously tweeted in 2014. (There are not.) In light of the measles outbreak last spring, however, Trump appeared to have backtracked, telling CNN, “They [children] have to get the shots. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots.”