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When Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson told a joke about an anti-vaccine conspiracy theory on Saturday Night Live this week, the audience was unsure how to react.

The joke, which has since created controversy online, was part of Harrelson’s SNL opening monologue. Harrelson, 61, told the audience he’d been sent a movie script with a clear, real-world metaphor.

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“So, the movie goes like this: the biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes, and people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs and keep taking them over and over,” said Harrelson.

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The punchline: “I threw the script away. I mean, who is gonna believe that crazy idea! Being forced to do drugs? I do them voluntarily all day long.”

The New York audience released a round of tense laughter, clearly unsure how to respond.

Neither SNL nor Harrelson has commented publicly on the monologue.

Harrelson, who got his start on Cheers, has been known to occasionally share conspiracy theories. In the past, Harrelson has publicly questioned the legitimacy of 9/11 as a terrorist attack, claimed there may be a connection between 5G networks and COVID-19 and has called wearing masks during the pandemic “absurd.”

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Harrelson hosted SNLfor the fifth time on Saturday and was honoured as part of the Five-Timers Club.

Almost immediately after the episode aired, Harrelson’s joke became the subject of fierce debate online. Many social media users with anti-vaccine beliefs praised Harrelson. Others felt the joke was a harmful means of spreading false, anti-science rhetoric about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Re Woody Harrelson and #SNL, whenever anyone spews anti-vax stupidity, I always think of the countless videos of traumatized/crying doctors, nurses and hospital workers who were climbing over bodies in Covid’s early days,” wrote Twitter user Ballark. “So yeah, f**k Woody Harrelson.”

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In Canada, over 80 per cent of the population (excluding Quebec) is fully vaccinated, according to statistics provided by the Canadian government. Over 83 per cent of Canadians have been administered at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination is most popular among Canadians over the age of 60.

Frequently updated information about COVID-19 is available from the government of Canada and the World Health Organization.

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