John Oliver tried to eradicate the anti-vaxxer movement yesterday on 'Last Week Tonight' by delving into the science and fear surrounding vaccinations. Specifically, the idea that vaccines can cause autism - a claim that has been widely discredited by the medical community, but anxieties surrounding side effects of vaccines persist.
Part of the misunderstanding comes from the way scientists present results. Researchers rarely phrase their findings in conclusive terms. Instead of saying vaccines don't cause autism, they'll say there is "no evidence" to support that hypothesis. And for a concerned parent, the words "no evidence" aren't reassuring. It's like if you're at a farmer's market and a vendor says there's "no evidence" that his tomatoes were slobbered on by rabid raccoons. We want to know that those tomatoes are 100 percent spit-free before we eat them, and we want to know that vaccines are 100 percent safe before they're injected into our kids.
But in medical terms, finding zero evidence is pretty much the most conclusive results you can get - whether you're talking about risks associated with cannabis consumption or other medical issues. As Oliver noted, it's like saying you're as sure about something as you are that you couldn't fly if you fell off a building. "That is about as clear as you can be. And for the record, if your doctor does believe they can fly, run. Because they are either crazy, or they're R. Kelly. And if your pediatrician is R. Kelly, then vaccines are actually the least of your problems."
Then again, parents would probably flock to Dr. Kelly if his vaccines were guaranteed not to cause any harmful side effects. And that sums up just how worried parents are over the issue. So after reviewing numerous studies vindicating vaccination, Oliver offered some other reassuring stats.
"I honestly know for some people this is still hard, but what can help is to try to anchor yourself to what we know to be true about the risks of vaccines. And when it comes to autism, again, there is no link. And even when it comes to other serious side effects like a severe allergic reaction, it is literally - according to the CDC - close to one in a million. And I know that in a way, that's not actually helpful because every parent thinks their child is one in a million. But if it makes you feel better, your child's odds of being convicted of murder and eventually executed by the state are only 1 in 119,012. And if that makes you feel even worse, just cheer up: maybe your child will be one of those murderers that never gets caught."
Then Oliver set jokes aside and stepped forward to serve as the poster family for vaccines.
"I'm someone who is literally scared of everything: the dark, the light, heights, depths, confined spaces, wide open spaces, strangers, intimacy, spiders and a sudden and mysterious lack of spiders," Oliver noted. "But if this helps at all, I have a son. He is 19 months old. He was born prematurely following a very difficult pregnancy. And I've worried about his health, and I'm still worried about his health. But we are vaccinating him fully on schedule. And if I can overcome the temptation to listen to the irrational shouting in my terrified lizard brain, then I believe that everyone can."