July 28, 2021

The day Elvis Presley got vaccinated on television to encourage young people to do it too

If I had tuned in the program of Ed Sullivan October 28, 1956, would have witnessed an unexpected promoter of public health. Right before taking the stage to tour through his hit version of “Hound Dog,” teenage heartthrob Elvis Presley , received a polio vaccine live on television. The city health commissioner, who was present for the photo shoot, praised Presley: “He is setting a good example for the youth of the country.”

In fact, young people were the problem. Polio it was perceived as a disease of the child, not the adolescent. So when it was announced a year before Presley’s famous injection that American virologist and medical researcher Jonas Salk had produced a vaccine that would stop the ravages of polio, initial distribution efforts focused on infants and young children. Teens, however, were more difficult to convince.

Jonas Salk.

Presley’s air vaccination was destined to change all of this. If the king of rock and roll does it, they expected a generation of teenagers to say: I’ll do it too!

It turned out that there were many reasons why teenagers, and others, came up with defying their king and refusing vaccination. One of them was almost certainly the “Cutter Incident” of 1955, in which improperly prepared doses of the vaccine produced at Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California, hit the market containing live poliovirus.

The resulting outbreak did not improve public confidence. Another was the logistics to receive the vaccine: three injections, each for US $ 3-5 (about US $ 30-50 per injection in today’s money), was a huge commitment, especially for a population that many did not consider that will urgently need immunization. In fact, the real game changer came from the teens themselves, who, particularly in an association called Teens Against Polio, organized campaigns and sponsored the very popular dances known as “sock-hops” for which immunization was the price of admission.

Perhaps more important than any of these to us now, however, is that the alleged relationship between public figures and their fans It is not as simple as it has sometimes seemed. Individuals, then and now, are capable of being told by a celebrity to do something and, for all sorts of reasons, they refuse to do it.

This was a fact that did not go unnoticed by those who presented public health messages in the last decades of the 20th century. Over time, celebrity endorsement of public health projects waned in favor of more subtle alternatives. One of them was the rise of medical educational entertainment, or “medutainment”. This involved integrating public health messages into narrative developments on popular medical television shows.

Since then, the most personal first-hand accounts of celebrities like Lena Dunham, who has publicly documented her persistent endometriosis, and Meghan Markle and Chrissy Teigen, who have helped destigmatize miscarriageThey have changed the relationship between celebrities and their fans when it came to health and illness.

Prince Harry and Meghan, in an image from last March, in London. Photo: AFP

All of this means that we should view with some skepticism the recent proposition that “sensible celebrities”, who have done “sensible things” during the course of the pandemic, should be our public health people in the quest to popularize Covid-19. . vaccine.

Ironically, on the question of vaccination, celebrities have recently been much more visible in anti-vax movements. We should be grateful, then, that their ability to influence vaccination acceptance is as minimal as it probably always has been.

In 2011, US researchers found that while only 24% of those surveyed had faith in what celebrities said about vaccine safety, more than 70% had “a lot of confidence” in their child’s doctor.

We know that indecision about vaccines has often been valid mistrust. It seems like a good starting point for thinking about how to approach the Covid-19 vaccine.

It’s not about how nice or “sensible” the celebrity is who urges us to do it. It’s about how much we can trust the various infrastructures and gadgets that made that vaccine a reality in the first place: the public health experts who tell us to get vaccinated, the drug companies that made and tested these vaccines, the doctors who recommend it to us. personally, the people who finally do the jabbing.

Do we have faith in this system? The goal here shouldn’t be to outsource celebrity sympathy or faithbut rather focus on repairing and maintaining goodwill between citizens and the state.