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opinion

After a few years in Los Angeles, I like to think I learned some wisdom the hard way: Invest in a good sunscreen, avoid the 405 freeway at all costs, and try not to use actors as a source of scientific knowledge. If you start using actors as health advisers, next thing you know you'll be asking Ozzy Osbourne to be your structural engineer.

Against my better judgement, then, I looked at what Jim Carrey had to say on the subject of California's brave new mandatory vaccine laws for children. It was not pretty. Mr. Carrey, perhaps channelling his erstwhile girlfriend and anti-vaccination torchbearer Jenny McCarthy, wrote on June 27, "Greed trumps reason again as Gov Brown moves closer to signing vaccine law in Cali. Sorry kids. It's just business."

I could say that Mr. Carrey is not an expert on vaccines but knows a lot about greed trumping reason, having pocketed $20-million to star in The Cable Guy. That, however, would be an ad hominem attack, much like the one he launched on California's governor, Jerry Brown, who signed a law mandating that all children in the state must be vaccinated before they could enter school. Mr. Carrey wrote, "California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in mandatory vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped."

That tweet is more crammed with nuttiness than a car stuffed with clowns. "Poisoning" is what the majority of us call "saving from great harm." As for mercury, Mr. Carrey appears to share the (debunked) belief that the vaccine preservative thimerosal causes neurological disorders, including autism; even if that were true, which it's not, pediatric vaccines in Canada and the United States don't contain thimerosal, apart from optional flu shots. As for the use of "fascist" regarding a bill passed by a two-party legislature, well, there's a history book or two that could fall on Mr. Carrey's head and open to a convenient page.

California joins Mississippi and West Virginia in mandating vaccines for school children, a remarkably bold step in the face of strident and well-organized opposition (technically, California closed a loophole allowing parents to claim personal or religious exemptions to vaccines). Similar legislation in Oregon and Washington states buckled in the face of that opposition. Several other states are considering mandatory vaccines, and a federal bill, the "Vaccinate All Children Act," was introduced by a Florida congresswoman in May, though it's unlikely to pass. The timing is grimly apt, since a woman in Washington State recently died of measles complications, the first such death in the U.S. in 12 years.

Mr. Carrey's use of the words "greed" and "corporate" were no accident. The anti-vaccination community is convinced that there is a conspiracy of Big Pharma (their capitalization, not mine) to peddle unnecessary, harmful vaccines to the tots of America. Their champion is Robert Kennedy Jr., who claims to be pro-vaccine but has written a book about their alleged toxicity and calls the inoculation agenda "a holocaust." In a speech denouncing California's law on the steps of the state capitol, he called the pro-vaccine U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "an absolute cesspool of corruption, an agency that has fallen under the spell of this trillion-dollar Big Pharma industry."

It always strikes me as odd that no one questions the profit-making agenda when an antibiotic or chemotherapy drug is created to save a life – or, since we're talking about Hollywood, the brow-smoothing benefits of Botox – but the production of vaccines is somehow nefarious. Drug research could be funded with huge infusions of public cash, of course. I'm not sure how many of those anti-vaccination Californians carrying "protect children, not Big Pharma" signs would be willing to see their taxes shoot up overnight to fund government science, though. Perhaps Mr. Carrey would like to pony up some of his fortune. In honour of his tweets, he could donate the profits from Dumb and Dumber To.

The weird thing (or chilling, or unsettling) is that California would never have closed its loophole if not for a measles outbreak at Disneyland in February that infected at least 125 people. As the Sacramento Bee reported, when the Mouse got sick, things got real: "For many people, the threat of illnesses like measles had ceased to be an abstraction."

It is tempting to view this as a quintessentially California issue – a bunch of kale heads from Marin County who refuse to inoculate their children versus those horrified that they couldn't take their kids to Space Mountain – but of course it's not. Canada, like California, has seen immunization rates fall sharply in some communities, and then suffer outbreaks of measles or whooping cough.

Health officials and doctors are then left to plead with the public to get their kids inoculated, long after the spotty horse has fled the barn. That's because there are no mandatory vaccines in this country: New Brunswick and Ontario (Mr. Carrey's home province) require kids to have their shots to enter school, but even then people can apply for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

Some public-health officials oppose the idea of mandatory vaccines, worrying that it will drive people out of the public-school system and into self-perpetuating pockets of ill health. But it's time to at least have the discussion, like our neighbours to the south. Jim Carrey can come home and give us a piece of his mind.