Skepticism

Oprah Endorses Vaccines Because They May Save Her Life

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Transcript:

So we’re all on the same page here concerning the flu vaccine, right? Fucking get it? And get it now? Good. Great!

Here’s the thing with convincing people to get vaccinated: the most compelling argument is the fact that getting vaccinated lowers your own chances of getting the disease in question. No one wants to get a disease, right? But not all vaccines are 100% effective, and some people wrongly think that the diseases in question aren’t that bad, and that the vaccines are bad. Let’s take the flu vaccine for an example. You might (incorrectly) think the flu is just a bad cold, and so you just can’t be bothered to go get your free flu shot from Walgreen’s or wherever. But we have hard data showing that if a baby, or a senior, or any immunocompromised person gets the flu, they very well might die a horrible death. And you getting that flu shot will help prevent those needless deaths.

That should be an effective argument and so if 100% of people heard it, we should have 100% of people getting their flu shot. But we actually wouldn’t, and to figure out why I’d like to present to you Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah recently did a very good thing — she went on Ellen DeGeneres’s very popular talk show and suggested to an audience of millions that they get their flu shot. And not just their flu shot, but their pneumonia shot! You might not know this if you don’t have a baby or if you’re not over 65 or otherwise immunocompromised, but there are a few pneumonia vaccines that can significantly reduce your chances of catching it, though it’s a tough one because a lot of different things can cause pneumonia. The nice thing, though, is that once you get the pneumonia vaccines you’re set for life (though doctors may recommend specific high-risk individuals get a booster).

So Oprah (finally) did a good thing, hooray! If you’re not familiar with my Oprah beef, I encourage you to go watch the previous videos I made about her in which I explained why I desperately do not want Oprah to run for president, nor do I want her to run a health and wellness channel on AppleTV+. The tl;dw is that she is a seller of bullshit, and particularly she was key in boosting Jenny McCarthy from embarrassing “comedian” to an actual celebrity people listen to when McCarthy used Oprah’s platform to tell the world that vaccines cause autism. Which, fyi, they do not. Oprah is one of the main reasons that vaccination rates are down in the United States. She is directly to blame for the many outbreaks of measles and whooping cough.

So why has she suddenly changed her tune, encouraging people to get vaccinated? Simple: she got pneumonia and it nearly killed her. She turned 65 this year, which is the year that doctors suggest people start getting regular pneumonia vaccines because once you reach a certain age, pneumonia goes from a serious illness that puts you out of work for awhile into a common cause of death, just like influenza. About 50,000 Americans die every year from pneumonia, making pneumonia and flu the 8th leading cause of death. The two are combined because the flu is a common cause of pneumonia, and it’s the reason why Oprah here is promoting both flu and pneumonia vaccines.

I know, I should be happy that Oprah has done a verified Good Thing (™) in telling people to get vaccinated, but I don’t care, I’m still going to complain about something. And it’s this: if Oprah hadn’t nearly died from pneumonia, she would never have promoted vaccines. And I find that absolutely disgusting. 

The problem here is one of a complete lack of empathy. I’ll be honest, I don’t know anyone who has ever died of the flu or pneumonia. I had pneumonia once when I was an overworked college student and it sucked but I was fine, and when I eventually went to see a doctor (after my boss forced me) he gave me a pill that cleared it up in a few days. But I encourage other people to get their vaccines because I give a shit about people other than myself. I give a shit about people I don’t even know. I see a safe, easy way to save thousands of lives a year from a horrible death and I want everyone to know about it, because I’m not a fucking monster.

And here’s the thing, I’m not a great person! I can be selfish and shitty just like anybody else. The other day I honked at someone for not turning right on red and then I saw there was someone in the crosswalk. Yeah, I’m that asshole. And yet! I still have that basic empathy.

But people like Oprah don’t think like that. It doesn’t occur to them to care about a thing until it directly affects their lives. Now that Oprah is 65, even though she is rich enough to afford the best medical care in the world, her life is still put at risk if you don’t get your flu shot. So she’s going to encourage you to do that.

You shouldn’t need to get a deadly disease to promote vaccinations. You shouldn’t need to get shot to promote gun control. You shouldn’t need to be homeless to promote affordable housing initiatives. All you need to do is be able to recognize two things: the effectiveness of science-based action and the humanity of other people.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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