Although the debate about vaccines has been roiling in parenting circles for years, President Donald Trump's not-quite-but-close-enough anti-vaxx stance has been lending credibility to a practice modern medicine wholeheartedly agrees will damage herd immunity. John Oliver discussed vaccines on Last Week Tonight as his main story and he thoughtfully unpacked why the confusion and misinformation surrounding immunization is so dangerous.
He was super sympathetic to parents who simply feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of information that comes along with parenting in the social media age. Parents feel pummeled by conflicting ideas, with all roads seemingly leading to endangering their children. Oliver also admitted that the theory of vaccines is sort of unnerving, saying:
I kind of get why vaccines creep people out. 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. An appendectomy means removing one of your organs through stabbery. Antibiotics are poisons used to murder things living in you. And even exercise means forcibly burning up your insides. My point is, the human body is a true carnival of horrors and frankly, I'm embarrassed to have one.
Oliver covered Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who lost his medical license for falsifying the now-discredited study linking the MMR vaccine to autism in children. But his work has spawned countless critics of vaccination nonetheless. Much like Trump, the majority of people aren't wholly anti-vaxx, but rather "pro-safe vaccines."
And the FDA actually removed the mercury-based preservative Thimerosal from vaccines in the early 2000s because of public outcry over its mercury content, even though multiple studies cited that it wasn't the same kind of mercury that's harmful in fish. In essence, Oliver points out, the FDA spent money to solve a problem that existed in people's imaginations. Similarly, the focus on studying the link between vaccines and autism is taking resources away from learning more about actual autism, even though study after study dismisses vaccines as its cause.
Oliver admits that people's fears of scientists being paid by big pharma companies — and thus distorting information about the drugs they study — are founded. But he also points out that on the rare occasion there has been a problem with a vaccine, it has always been pulled very quickly. And although children receive many shots in their infancy (another aspect of vaccines that frequently worries parents) those shots also have fewer antigens than ever before, and profoundly fewer antigens than children encounter in their daily lives anyway.
Most importantly, kids need to be vaccinated on schedule to protect people with vulnerable immune systems who can't necessarily tolerate vaccines. It's on the rest of society to preserve herd immunity when someone's health doesn't allow them to, and the best way to do that is to ensure every kid remains a building block in that wall.