John Oliver rips anti-vaxxers: ‘Memes aren’t facts’

On this weekend’s edition of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver took aim at one of the most prominent global pseudoscience movements, the anti-vaxxers. Oliver’s rant was centered around the fact that vaccine denialists now have the ultimate stamp of approval: President Donald Trump.

“…despite [the success of vaccines], small groups are both skeptical and vocal about vaccines,” Oliver said. “Which is nothing new, but these days their voice has been amplified by the human megaphone that is the President of the United States.”

Oliver then played a clip of Trump questioning the safety of vaccines while on the campaign trial — while Ben Carson, a medical doctor, was standing right beside him. Oliver was careful to point out that the majority of parents do vaccinate, “but the voices of those who don’t, carry.”

“Any internet search about vaccines will lead you down a frightening rabbit hole, and the background hum of doubt can make some parents understandably nervous.”

He cited data that says anti-vaxxers are gaining ground in eleven states, causing once eradicated diseases like measles to return all because of a belief system that falsely links the MMR vaccine to autism. In a Somali community in Minnesota, the low vaccination rate caused a measles explosion that outpaced the total measles cases in the entire U.S.

‘I kind of get how vaccines can creep people out. Vaccination could mean getting injected with a needle full of science juice. Although, pretty much every medical practice sounds terrifying when you break it down like that.”

Oliver pointed out how the anti-vaxxer movement has big help from celebrity figures “from across the political spectrum” who spread the message to their huge audiences, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Alex Jones, and comedian and former Saturday Night Live cast member Robert Schneider, who Oliver referred to as “the annoying guy who is wrong.”

He then confronted a contingent that probably doesn’t get enough criticism: people who try to play the middle ground.

“The good news is, these days very few people will say they’re completely anti-vaccine,” Oliver said. “Instead, like the President, they’ll say, ‘I’m not anti-vaccine, but…'”

“One example is, ‘Hey, I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-safe vaccine.’ And that can often refer to concern over scary sounding ingredients like thimerosal — a mercury-based preservative. For years now, RFK Junior has led a crusade against it. … It is worth knowing that the mercury that’s being used in vaccines is not the same kind that is harmful in fish. On top of which, as with the MMR vaccine, there have been multiple large studies finding no link between thimerosal and autism.”

“And perhaps most importantly of all, since the early two thousands, as a precautionary measure, [thimerosal] has been removed as a preservative in all vaccines recommended for infants, except for the flu vaccines —  and even there, thimerosal-free versions are available.”

Oliver stressed that “correlation is not causation.”

“That is what scientific studies are for. And remember, they are really clear that [the vaccine-autism] link is not there. And the problem with spending more and more time and money trying to prove that link is that it takes resources away from studying actual causes and treatments.”

“It’s like that Einstein quote you sometimes see on the internet: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results,’ except Einstein didn’t say that because — and it seems I cannot express this enough — memes aren’t facts.”

Watch the full segment below, via Last Week Tonight:

Featured image via screen grab

Sky Palma

Before launching DeadState back in 2012, Sky Palma has been blogging about politics, social issues and religion for over a decade. He lives in Los Angeles and also enjoys Brazilian jiu jitsu, chess, music and art.