If it didn’t already feel like we were living through a time warp, as a vaccine-preventable and previously eliminated disease wreaks havoc in the US, it does now, as anti-vax groups are using an episode of The Brady Bunch to spread misinformation.
But the main face of this messaging — actress Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia Brady — is having none of it.
In episode 13 of the Brady Bunch’s first season, all six of the children get the measles. When Peter comes home from school with the measles, Mrs. Brady refers to the symptoms as “a slight temperature, a lot of dots, and a great big smile.” The joke is that children smile when they get the measles because they’re pleased with being able to stay home from school.
Anti-vaxxers are using this episode to promote the idea that when measles was a common sickness, it was nothing to be concerned about.
One of Marcia’s lines, in particular, has been turned into a meme that reads: “If you have to get sick, sure can't beat the measles.”
The meme was brought to McCormick’s attention by a Twitter user in February, and she has since spoken out about it.
“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,” McCormick told NPR. “As a mother, my daughter was vaccinated.”
@MoMcCormick7 can you please tell the antivaccine bunch to quit using your likeness (Marsha) as an argument to say the measles aren’t deadly? They keep spreading measles and apparently Marsha is endorsing it pic.twitter.com/klWifdQJYn— Cartoons by Kristin (@cartoonsbykris) February 11, 2019
McCormick actually had the measles as a child, too.
“Having the measles was not a fun thing,” she said. “I remember it spread through my family.”
The anti-vaccine movement has existed for as long as vaccines have, but in recent years has managed to spread misinformation at a larger scale thanks to social media.
The “Is There a Doctor in the House?” episode of The Brady Bunch aired in 1969. That year in the US, there were more than 25,000 measles cases, which accounted for 41 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The measles were eliminated from the US in 2000, but unvaccinated people have triggered outbreaks since then. The US is currently experiencing its worst outbreak in 25 years, a trend that can be seen globally.
While most people recover fully from the measles, children under 5 are particularly at risk of the illness turning fatal.
In 2017, thanks in large part to vaccination efforts around the world, the number of deaths was reduced to 110,000, which were primarily among children under 5 years old, according to the World Health Organization.
“Measles is not a harmless childhood illness, but a dangerous, highly contagious disease,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday during a CDC telebriefing on the current state of the measles outbreak in the US. “Most of us have never seen the deadly consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases can have on a child, family or community, and that’s the way we want to keep it.”
Measles is a highly contagious illness, but it’s also completely preventable. The current outbreaks in the US should act as a reminder that routine vaccination is vital in ensuring good health for children within the country — and abroad, as unvaccinated people are targets for disease, and often bring disease back to their homes.
“Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not in our emergency room,” Azar said.