Vaccine Truthiness | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Vaccine Truthiness

For one day, five years ago, the universe as we know it imploded a teeny tiny bit.

It was October 2009, and political and cultural critic Bill Maher, who is known for his progressive views on most everything, locked horns on his HBO show with Bill Frist, a conservative Republican, former U.S. senator and physician from Tennessee over flu vaccines.

In a back and forth with Frist, a heart surgeon, Maher posited: "Why would you let (the government) be the ones to stick a disease into your arm? I would never get a swine-flu vaccine or any vaccine. I don't trust the government, especially with my health."

Later, Dr. Frist told Maher of the comic's opposition to vaccinations: "Well, you're wrong. I'm serious."

Taken together with Maher blasting people on Twitter who received flu vaccines as "idiots," Maher earned a reputation as an anti-science "vaccine truther," a reference to conspiracy theorists who claim the U.S. government orchestrated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In 2009, public-health officials were in the throes of dealing with the pandemic of H1N1, a strain of influenza the media dubbed "swine flu," which caused an estimated 18,500 deaths worldwide.

Even odder, the controversy aligned Maher with the anti-vaccine movement, whose adherents tend to be the devoutly religious. Maher is an atheist. In response to the controversy, Maher clarified his position in a column for The Huffington Post, saying that he was merely offering a different point of view for consideration.

"And it's precisely because I am a Darwinist that I fear the overuse of antibiotics, since that is what has allowed nasty killer bugs like MRSA to adapt so effectively that they are often resistant to any antibiotic we can throw at it. There are consequences to vaccines and antibiotics. Some people want to study that, and some, it seems, want to call off the debate," Maher wrote in March 2010.

"I don't think it's 'anti-science' to pause and consider that point of view," he concluded.

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