Oliver, John

John Oliver on vaccines: 'One of humanity's most incredible accomplishments'

On Last Week Tonight, the host used his monologue to focus on the growing anti-vaccine feeling, ‘amplified by the human megaphone that is the president’


Monday 26 June 2017 

John Oliver talked about vaccines on Sunday night, exploring their history, politicization and the growing number of skeptics.

“Vaccines are one of humanity’s most incredible accomplishments and they’ve saved millions of lives,” Oliver began. “There was a time when a new one was cause for huge celebration. It’s true – people lined up for the polio shot like it was an iPhone.

“But despite their success, small groups are both skeptical and vocal about vaccines, which is nothing new,” he continued. “But these days their voice has been amplified by the human megaphone that is the president of the United States.”

Oliver went on to show footage of Trump at a GOP debate last year expressing concerns about vaccines, most notably saying that he’d like to see them drawn out over a longer period of time and that dosages look like they’re “meant for a horse, not a child”.

Oliver continued: “That is Donald Trump on the campaign trail raising doubts about vaccinations. And that is a sentiment that he’s also expressed online, with a tweet reading ‘tiny children are not horses’, an assertion that PolitiFact rates: ‘Yeah, I mean, I guess technically we’ve got to give him that, but good grief.’”

The Last Week Tonight host went on to more seriously probe the issue, discussing the burgeoning anti-vaccine movement and the many previously debunked myths about the harms of the practice.

“Parents get so much information, it is hard to know what to do,” he said. “Did you vaccinate? Did you eat the placenta? Did you let kids cry? And the answer to those, by the way, are yes, no and absolutely, because the more they cry now the more they’ll be prepare to watch This Is Us when they get older.

“This atmosphere of confusion about vaccines has caused real problems. There are now 11 states where the number of unvaccinated kids is on the rise, and in small pockets all over America the numbers can get startlingly high. In the Somali community in Minnesota, the measles vaccination rate for children dropped to just 42%, and that has some very real consequences,” he explained.

“I kind of get why vaccines can creep people out,” Oliver continued. “Vaccinations can mean getting injected by a needle filled with science juice. Pretty much every medical practice sounds terrifying when you break it down like that. An appendectomy means removing one of your organs through stabbing, antibiotics are poison used to murder things living in you, and even exercise means forcefully burning up your insides. My point is the human body is a true carnival of horrors and frankly I’m embarrassed to have one.

“Some will say that the real problem is that scientists have been paid by pharma companies to hide the problem with vaccines,” Oliver noted, running through an array of notable skeptics including Andrew Wakefield, a disgraced British former doctor, and Robert F Kennedy Jr.

“I’m not saying that there are not problems with big pharma. There absolutely are; we have discussed them before on this show. But on the rare occasions where there have been issues with vaccines, they have been pulled, and fast. And I know that that explanation will still not satisfy some,” he said. “There are going to be some truly toxic comments below this video, alongside the usual ones about how I look like an owl who can’t get a date for prom, or that I probably live alone surrounded by jars I’m too weak to open by myself.”

Oliver ended on a personal note: “Parenthood in general is fucking terrifying. And I am someone who is scared of literally everything. For what it’s worth, I have a son. He is 19 months old. He was born prematurely following a very difficult pregnancy. And I was worried about his health and I still worry about his health a lot. But we are vaccinating him fully on schedule. And if I can overcome the temptation to listen to the irrational shouting of my terrified lizard brain, then I believe that everyone can.”