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John Oliver’s Message to Anti-Vaxxers, Slow-Vaxxers: “Memes Are Not Science”

John Oliver has dedicated past segments of Last Week Tonight to the different ways Big Pharma can harm us, as with the opioid epidemic or the practice of marketing directly to doctors. But on Sunday, he turned his attention to defending “one of humanity’s most incredible accomplishments”: vaccines.

By now, you’ve probably heard the hoopla about a supposed link between vaccines and autism, which comes from a thoroughly debunked study by Andrew Wakefield, the discredited researcher Oliver calls “the Lance Armstrong of doctors.” Misinformation from figures like Wakefield, actor Rob Schneider, and, yes, even internet memes can lead to a precipitous drop in vacination rates, which in turn clears the way for resurgences of once-eliminated diseases like the measles outbreak currently affecting Minnesota’s Somali population. And while people who reject vaccines outright are thankfully still pretty rare, there are plenty of parents out there with misguided views about vaccines, such as slow-vaxxers, who prefer that doctors space out their children’s recommended vaccinations. That’s a philosophy might sound sensible, but as Oliver notes, it’s actually “a middle ground between sense and nonsense,” one that even its proponents admit is not based in science.

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Oliver understands why vaccines might seem scary to some people. “Vaccination can mean getting injected by a needle filled with science juice—although pretty much every medical practice sounds terrifying when you break it down like that.” But that doesn’t mean we should cave to those fears, especially since not vaccinating—or not vaccinating on schedule—puts the most vulnerable among us at risk, like sick people and newborns, who rely on herd immunity.

Oliver capped off the segment by telling the audience that he and his wife plan to have their infant son vaccinated fully on schedule despite a difficult pregnancy and premature birth. “I’ve worried about his health, and I still worry about his health a lot,” he said. “And if I can resist the temptation to listen to the irrational shouting of my terrified lizard brain, then I believe that everyone can.”

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