The Twitterverse has been buzzing since June 19 about a tweet by Dax Shepard, the comic/actor who starred in Parenthood and is married to actress Kristen Bell (Frozen), following a tweet he posted criticizing anti-vaccine activists, which concluded with the word “#measeltov,” a play on the words “Mazel Tov” and “Measles.”
This made-up word is apparently a reference to the recent measles outbreaks that have popped up in communities around the US among unvaccinated children, notably in ultra-Orthodox communities in upstate New York. Measles, a disease that was once believed to be nearly eradicated, has reached a 25-year high this year in the US, driven by high rates of infection in this group.
The outbreak has happened despite the fact that mainstream rabbinic thought does not encourage vaccine refusal, and many prominent rabbis, doctors, businesspeople and other members of these communities have spoken out in favor of all parents having their children vaccinated. The ultra-Orthodox businessman and major Republican Party donor Richard Roberts recently had nearly 200,000 leaflets distributed encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated.
“I would have a hard time keeping my opinion to myself if someone was telling me their 8 month-old did not need a car seat,” Shepard wrote on his tweet. “The same hard time I’m having currently with anti-vaxxers, #yourenotapediatrician #measeltov.”
While more than 74,000 people liked the tweet, it was criticized by some. “The cruel comedy of combining a Jewish crossover phrase ‘Mazal Tov’ with the name of a contagious illness is something that a sweet liberal celebrity would know not to do to any other minority group,” wrote Jenny Singer of The Forward. “But the Jews, with their funny phrases and crazy blue-and-white scarves, are such safe targets!”
Lior Zaltzman wrote on kveller.com that the tweet “feels in very poor taste.”
But others found the phrase clever and funny, including Independent Tweeter, who complimented Shepard and asked who came up with it because “I just need to know where to send the royalty checks.” Shepard replied he came up with it himself, “on accident during a fact check.”
Anti-vaccine activists also took some hits at him, including someone using the twitter handle Jupiter Jove, who said his or her daughter died as a “direct result” of a vaccination.
Shepard defended his pro-vaccine stance, saying that he and his wife have “been the most vocal pro-vaccination couple in the biz.”
The anti-vaccine movement went mainstream in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the medical journal Lancet, describing eight children who showed signs of autism days after being vaccinated.
But in 2010, the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom found that Wakefield had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in conducting the experiments that led to the publication of the paper. The editors of Lancet retracted the paper.
However, the publication of Wakefield’s paper sparked a movement against vaccination, which claimed that he had been unfairly silenced.
Shepard defended himself against the anti-vaxxers who weighed in on Twitter, but did not address the criticisms in The Forward and on kveller.com.