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US talk show host agreed with a controversial doctor, repeating a debunked theory that it was 'realistic' that vaccines have caused autism in children

Kat Tenbarge , Business Insider US
 Nov 04, 2019, 09:16 AM
  • Late night TV host Bill Maher invited a controversial doctor, Jay N. Gordon, onto "Real Time with Bill Maher" Friday.
  • Gordon is best known for signing hundreds of personal belief exemptions to school vaccine requirements, advocating for "balanced, moderate" vaccinations, and for calling measles a "benign childhood illness," leading to his prominence in the anti-vaxxer community.
  • On the subject of whether vaccines can cause autism in children, a conspiracy theory that has never stood up to testing, Maher sided with Gordon, saying "there's all these parents" who had a "normal child" before getting vaccinated.
  • Maher also said "it seems to be more realistic to me" that vaccines cause autism rarely, but that it scares people to know "I could be that millionth one."
  • With anti-vaxxer sentiment on the rise, measles outbreaks have been ongoing in 2019 in the US, and the highly contagious disease is poised to make its comeback.
  • For more stories go to 

On the latest episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher," the famously politically incorrect late-night TV host fielded comments from a doctor beloved by anti-vaxxers, only to agree with him that vaccines can cause activism.

Maher was joined on his show Friday night by Dr. Jay N. Gordon, a pediatrician based in Santa Monica, California, whose patients choose to abstain from vaccinations more than half the time. Gordon told CBS News that he has signed hundreds of personal belief exemptions to school vaccine requirements, and said measles was a "benign childhood illness" that parents don't need to be concerned about.

On his own website, Gordon describes his approach to vaccines as "balanced" and "moderate," but his attitude toward them has contributed to the growing sentiment against vaccines - that in itself is leading to a resurrection of preventable illnesses, including measles.

Dr. Jay Gordon examines 2 year old Sam Geller as his Mother Sarah Geller and brother Noah Geller age 5 watch. Photos for profile of Dr. Jay Gordon a Santa Monica pediatrician with an interest in alternative medicine.Among other things he discourages parents from following the CDC approved vaccination for infants, encouraging parents to wait longer and get fewer vaccines. His office is in Santa Monica.
Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

On Maher's show, the host sided with Gordon, endorsing a conspiracy theory that vaccines can cause autism. Multiple studies have tested whether a link between autism and vaccines exits, including a study this March of over 650,000 children that found no correlation between the two.

"The autism issue, they certainly have studied it a million times [...] but there's all these parents who say 'I had a normal child, got the vaccine,'" Maher said.

"It seems to be more realistic to me if we're just gonna be realistic about it," Maher said." It probably happens so rarely but no one wants, you can't say it happens one in a million times, because then somebody will think 'Well, I could be that millionth one.' And you see, you scare people. So you can't say what might be the more realistic opinion."

Maher has been criticised before for his refusal to challenge his controversial guests. In this case, promoting conspiracy theories about measles can have serious real-life consequences. The World Health Organisation says anti-vaxxers pose a global threat to public health, and the US is poised to see even more outbreaks of measles after hundreds of new cases were reported this year.

Some celebrities have touted anti-vaxxer sentiment, most infamously Jenny McCarthy, but others have taken opposite stances and spoken out in favour of vaccinating children. Jon Stewart, a former late-night host, said in 2015 that anti-vaxxers "practice a mindful stupidity" and that there's a "needlessly sick America."

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