Sandra Oh paid homage to Dr. Cristina Yang, the character she played on ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy, at last night’s 76th Golden Globe Awards. The actress, who co-hosted the awards ceremony with comedian Andy Samberg, surprised the audience by offering free flu shots on the spot.
The shots were likely just part of the skit — not actual vaccines. When asked if the flu shot she was seen receiving was real, Green Book actress Linda Cardellini told Vanity Fair it was not. But either way, the bit made a bold statement about public health.
Mid-way through the night, when other award show hosts have typically given out pizza or sandwiches, Oh and Samberg unleashed a small flock of people dressed as nurses who marched out into the audience to the tune of LMFAO’s song “Shots” with flu vaccines in hand.
The response to the sketch has been mixed, but has sparked an important discussion about vaccinations, which several celebrities have publicly denounced in recent years.
The number of unvaccinated children in the United States has been consistently rising since 2001, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and Hollywood may have played a role in that increase.
“If you’re an anti-vaxxer, just put a napkin over your head, and we’ll skip you,” Samberg said, making reference to growing number of celebrities who have called into question the safety of vaccines, despite abundant evidence of their saftey.
Some actors, including Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, Alicia Silverstone, and Charlie Sheen, have argued that vaccines have harmful side effects. And while most celebrities are not medical professionals — save for Ken Jeong — experts say fans often treat them like they are, taking celebrity opinions as expert advice.
But when it comes to matters of health and Hollywood, the sword cuts both ways. Though some celebrities appear to be influencing people against vaccinating their children today, that hasn’t always been the case.
Polio vaccination rates rose after Elvis Presley received a very real vaccination during a press conference before appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. Presley also lent his voice to the March of Dimes campaign against polio. Frank Sinatra and Mickey Rooney (whose son survived childhood polio) were also vocal vaccine advocates.
While some Golden Globe attendees seemed confused by the circulating nurses, Cardellini was game and was the only person who appeared to take Oh and Samberg up on the flu shot offer.
The gesture was a small one, but made a strong statement that only a handful of other celebrities have been willing to make in recent years.
Actress Kristen Bell — who describes herself as “earthy” and “crunchy” — admitted she hadn’t initially planned to vaccinate her two children, in a powerful op-ed published on HuffPost in 2015. But after extensive research, she was persuaded by the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are not just safe, but crucial to protecting children from life-altering diseases and the world from resurgences of these illnesses.
In fact, Bell was so persuaded, she began insisting that anyone who was going to be around her children get vaccinated.
"When Lincoln was born, the whooping cough epidemic was growing, and before she was 2 months old, we simply said [to friends], 'You have to get a whooping cough vaccination if you are going to hold our baby,'" Bell told the Hollywood Reporter.
"I want to help make sure that all moms across the country understand that influenza is serious and that vaccination should be a family priority," Garner said in March.
And even though it seems late in the season, it might still be worth getting a flu shot as high levels of flu-like illnesses are now being reported in nearly half of the US, according to the CDC.
Vaccinations are key to preventing against serious illnesses like the flu, which killed 80,000 people between 2017 and 2018, and eradicating diseases like measles and polio. Getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect the vaccine recipient, but also helps to protect communities against the spread of devastating illnesses.