Bill Maher, despite a history of skepticism about vaccinations, now denies that he is or ever was an anti-vaxxer, and says vaccines are pretty much safe. At the same time, he referred to the flu shot as "bull****."
He did admit to a willingness to get a vaccine shot if Ebola went airborne, however.
On HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher last night, the host seemed to be backpedaling on his vaccine science skepticism. Instead he focused initial attention that a meme that seems to have developed in the news media that merely raising the issue of vaccine efficacy or safety is a deal-breaker.
The vaccine controversy recently heated up when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, during a visit to the U.K., suggested that parents should have some measure of choice when it comes to getting their kids vaccinated. He has since issued a clarification for those comments, noting that children should indeed be vaccinated for diseases like measles. U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a medical doctor, subsequently chimed in that most vaccines should be voluntary, and that parents, rather than the government, should call the shots, as it were, as far as childhood immunizations are concerned.
Maher has made a living at portraying Republicans and conservatives as anti-science yokels, but the left-right divide does not apply when it comes to vaccines.
Apart from Maher himself, prominent liberals such as climate change activist Robert Kennedy, Jr., for example, has publicly warned of what he considers the health dangers of vaccines. Moreover, in the 2008 presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton alluded to the possibility that vaccines and autism might be related. Both Democrats have subsequently done a 180 on vaccines.
"Among the communities hit hardest by the recent measles outbreak are Los Angeles and the Bay Area, where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans and where the anti-vaccination movement is on the rise," The Washington Times added.
Reacting to the way the media covered the issue against the backdrop of the measles outbreak, Maher was bothered by the approach.
"The attitude of the media kind of pissed me off. It was just a lot of 'shut the f**k up.' It reminded me of the Iraq war in the first weeks, 'don't ask any questions.'"During the broadcast, self-help guru Marianne Williamson noted that there is a difference between being anti-science and being skeptical about the pharmaceutical industry, the medical establishment, and the government, all of which have earned "mistrust." Amy Holmes of The Blaze, who like Williamson supports the measles vaccination, added that there was too much gotcha politics evident in the media that tried to portray Gov. Chris Christie or Sen. Rand Paul as "kooks" for their comments about parental choice at the state level.
Later in the panel discussion, Maher listed instances where conventional medicine has erred. Citing a lack of long-term studies, he added that "I'm not so sure that people who get a lot of [vaccines] have as robust immune system [as those who don't] …"
Maher also insisted that the scorn heaped on those expressing skepticism about mandatory vaccinations is different from the way climate change skeptics are treated, but others -- including some scientists and public policy advocates -- would disagree that climate change is "settled."
It's also worth noting that even if anti-vaxxers are completely off base and misinformed, most studies that "prove" the safety of vaccines have been funded by "Big Pharma." It would be reasonable for the ordinary consumer and/or parent to take that potential conflict of interest into consideration.
Separately, in a recent CNN interview, Dr. Ben Carson claimed that vaccinations need to be stepped up for diseases previously under control in part because of all the "undocumented people" who have flooded into the country recently from Central America.
Watch the entire Bill Maher clip above and draw your own conclusions about the vaccine controversy.