Woody Harrelson Sparks Controversy by Supporting COVID Vaccine Conspiracy Theory on 'SNL'

The actor, who joined Saturday Night Live's Five-Timers Club during his latest hosting appearance, was met with criticism online after his opening monologue

Woody Harrelson's Saturday Night Live hosting gig has found the star surrounded by controversy.

As the Academy Award nominee, 61, was inducted into the show's Five-Timers Club, Harrelson not-so-subtly shared some anti-vaccine views during his opening monologue with a joke about a script he recounted reading before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"So, the movie goes like this," said Harrelson. "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."

Spokespeople for SNL and NBC did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

After Harrelson's monologue aired, the star was met with criticism online, with many calling him, SNL and series creator Lorne Michaels out for platforming lies about the life-saving vaccine.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Woody Harrelson, Jack White Episode 1839 -- Pictured: Host Woody Harrelson during the Monologue on Saturday, February 25, 2023 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC via Getty Images)
Will Heath/NBC via Getty

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"With Woody Harrelson's monologue on SNL last night, the anti-vax stupidity in America just peaked," wrote one person. "It's disappointing that Lorne Michaels would allow this conspiratorial nonsense on his show. It's probably time for Lorne to retire."

Another tweeted of Harrelson's comments: "Does #SNL think [it's] just harmless noise? Normalizing #antivaxx conspiracies does real harm!"

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Woody Harrelson, Jack White Episode 1839 -- Pictured: Woody Harrelson during Promos in Studio 8H on Tuesday, February 21, 2023 -- (Photo by: Rosalind OConnor/NBC via Getty Images)
Rosalind OConnor/NBC via Getty

"Anti-Vaxxers won't listen to highly educated people who've spent their lives devoted to science and medicine—but they will listen to a guy who they saw in that movie they watched a few years ago," one other individual posted.

"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," another Twitter user wrote. "So yeah, f--- Woody Harrelson."

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The True Detective alum has shared similar views in the past, telling Vanity Fair last May of his stance on masking: "As one who doesn't believe in the germ theory, I find it rather absurd."

Harrelson also shared a conspiracy theory linking 5G networks to COVID shortly after the pandemic began in 2020. "I haven't fully vetted it [but] I find it very interesting," he wrote in the since-deleted Instagram post, according to the New York Post.

69.3% of Americans are fully vaccinated as of Feb. 23, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The organization found in a September 2022 study that a primary series of the vaccine plus a booster played a larger role in preventing hospitalization than only a primary series did in adults who are and are not immunocompromised.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments.

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