Days after Sacha Baron Cohen confirmed the end of “Borat,” it appears that the British comedian has found lucrative work elsewhere — shilling COVID-19 vaccines to celebs.
In a sketch during Thursday night’s episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Cohen was interrupted by what appeared to be a burner cell phone ringing while answering the question, “Was it fun to play Borat?”
Trailing off his serious statement on the political impact of Borat, Cohen excuses himself to answer his cell phone — a number he seems to recognize. He greets the caller, named Bono.
“Yep, I’ve got Astra-zeneca; got some Pfizer. What do you want?” he asks the caller while rifling through a mini-fridge in the background, filled with oat milk and what appears to be hermetically sealed vaccines. “Yea, Venmo is fine,” he concludes on the call.
“Did I hear you correctly? Was that Bono?” Kimmel asks, to which Cohen clarified, “A different Bono: Chaz.”
The bit goes on to include calls from “Tom Cruise” — initially mistaken for Tom Hanks and Tom Holland — Kanye West and Wesley Snipes.
“I don’t mean to pry but are you selling vaccines?” the late night host asks.
“Stay out of this Kimmel,” Cohen responds. “Look after that pretty face of yours. There’s no vaccine for broken legs.”
Later, actor Isla Fisher, Cohen’s wife, enters the frame looking particularly disheveled — strung out, you might say — with a wad of cash. “Honey, honey, Ruffalo’s outside. Here’s the cash,” she says, then orders “two Pfizers, a Moderna, and an Oatly” for “Mark Ruffalo.”
Noticing her unkempt demeanor, Cohen asks Fisher, “Have you been drinking any vaccines?”
After some pressing, she confesses with a heavy sigh, “I’ve had 15.”
Kimmel later suggest that the critically acclaimed satirist should be more focused on the Academy Awards than hawking vaccines.
“This is my Oscar campaign,” Cohen barks. “Jimmy, [I’ll] put it this way: None of the Hollywood Foreign Press is getting COVID-19 anytime soon.”
True to Cohen’s satire roots, the bit actually touches on a very real issue amid coronavirus vaccine rollout: vaccine elitism. As various pharmaceutical brands continue to debut their version of the COVID-19 antidote, a certain one-ups-manship has emerged that is dangerously undermining the effort to get all Americans vaccinated.
In January, a skit by British comedian Josh Berry astutely captures the troubling mindset by framing vaccines as if comparing top tier universities.
“What vaccine did you get?,” Berry begins, speaking to an imaginary other. “Oh, that’s great. Me? Oxford. Yea, everyone in my family had it, so I just sort of thought ‘why not me?’ you know? I just didn’t want to settle for the Pfizer one — no offense.”
But the constant picking-apart of each vaccine — where it was developed, who funded it or which demographic groups will benefit most — may risk spreading misinformation, doctors warn.
Vaccine efficacy between brands has fallen on a spectrum with success rates between 72% (Johnson & Johnson) up to about 95% (Pfizer and Moderna), according to studies, which in large part may depend on the patients age, health status and number of other factors. Despite the range, physicians have stressed that any vaccine is considerably better than none at all.
NYULangone Health epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer L. Lighter suggested that the brand “doesn’t matter” in an interview with the university’s news site, published on Thursday.
“Just get it, as soon as you become eligible,” she urged. “The vaccines are proven to prevent severe disease, and that is our goal.”
Lighter explained that the point of a vaccine is not necessarily to prevent people from getting sick at all, but to fortify their immunity just enough to keep them out of the hospital. “If someone gets a mild infection, even after vaccination, that is not something of concern,” she said. “What we need is for people to stay out of the hospital and reduce their risk of death.”
She also reiterated that “none of the trial participants who got [a] vaccine died from COVID-19.”
“There is no clinically significant difference between these vaccines,” says Dr. Lighter. “None. So please, do not hesitate to get vaccinated.”