- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explained vaccine hesitancy and debunked several insidious, persistent myths about the coronavirus vaccines. “Not that we needed it, but this week saw yet another reminder of just how dangerous Covid is,” he said, days after India set a global record for daily coronavirus cases with a likely undercounted 400,000. “Obviously the world should be doing everything it can right now to help India, but our best way out of this mess is clearly vaccines.”
The US far outpaces other countries in vaccine dispersal, but “a worrying amount of people are holding off on getting the free Covid vaccine,” said Oliver, with appointments for thousands of doses now going unfilled. “I’m not saying you should immediately get something just because it’s free,” he added, “but these vaccines could save not just your life, but the lives of people around you.”
The best method for ending the pandemic, Oliver explained, is herd immunity, estimated to be somewhere between 70% to 90% of the population. And the biggest roadblock to herd immunity is vaccine hesitancy; surveys indicate that only about 60% of American adults are willing to get the vaccine, which research has demonstrated is incredibly successful at preventing infection, and strongly suggests prevents transmission as well.
But for several reasons, especially conspiracy theories floated by conservative media figures and social media influencers, skepticism around the vaccine is rampant. “The scary thing is, [anti-vaxxers] don’t actually need to convince people they are right. They just need to convince people that no one is,” Oliver said.
Oliver cited a March Axios poll in which only 4% of people believed the Covid vaccine was more deadly than the disease, but 25% said they didn’t know. “If anti-vaxxers can simply spread enough information to cause people to throw up their hands and say, ‘I just don’t know enough to get the shot,’ they have already seriously fucked things up for all of us,” he said.
“To be clear, most people who are hesitant are not fanatics or conspiracy theorists,” he added. “Many are just trying to make the best decision for themselves and their family” based on limited or faulty information, and sometimes grounded in the US’s very real history of medical racism and experimental studies on black subjects.
Given that most Americans “definitely know” someone hesitant to receive the vaccine personally, Oliver devoted the rest of the segment to debunking specific myths about the vaccine, from ridiculous conspiracy theories to misperceptions of risk.
For starters, there are no Bill Gates microchips in the vaccines. “If your main concern is that Bill Gates could use microchips to track you, he could already do that, that’s what your fucking phone is,” Oliver ranted. Vaccines made with mRNA do not enter the human genome (as notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed), does not contain cells from aborted fetuses (as some evangelical Christians claim), and does not cause female infertility (as some anti-vaxxers claim).
Most importantly, the side effects of the vaccine do not outweigh the risks of contracting coronavirus. The temporary pause of US distribution of the Johnson & Johnson to investigate an incredibly rare – less than one in a million – risk of blood clot side effects demonstrated that “the safety risk of vaccines is rigorously and publicly analyzed, not secretly buried and somehow leaked to the human football’s neon scream hour,” Oliver said, referencing Jones.
“The fact is the vast majority of people can expect, at most: typical cold or flu symptoms in the first few days after their shot, or maybe just a sore arm, or maybe nothing at all,” he continued. And “no side effect of the vaccine is worse than the alternative: Covid, a disease that has killed over 500,000 people in the US alone while, once again, to date, the vaccine has been proven to kill exactly zero.”
“It is more than natural to have questions, but there are reassuring answers out there,” Oliver continued. “And anyone just throwing out questions without acknowledging that” – such as Fox News host and Oliver’s bête noire Tucker Carlson – “probably has another agenda entirely.
“But the problem is, to get anywhere close to herd immunity, we badly need to convince anyone who can be convinced.”
Research shows that vaccine hesitant people typically do not respond to calls from politicians or celebrities to change behavior; Oliver admitted that the show scrapped a bit in which they urged people to get vaccinated with a giant cicada costume since it would likely do little to move the needle on vaccinations.
“I’m not going to be able to convince the people in your life who are hesitant,” he concluded. “The person with the best chance of doing that is you. So if you know someone who is worried, for whatever reason, and you want to convince them otherwise, don’t show them this video. But maybe do use some of the information inside it to tell them yourself.”