Vaccinating Against the Dark Side

By Rebecca Kreston | January 29, 2015 8:00 pm

The measles outbreak emerging from “the happiest place on Earth” in Anaheim, California, is grabbing headlines and provoking conversation in the media regarding how best to appeal to parents opposed to vaccines.

Using clear facts and appealing to common logic has failed, repeatedly. Blaming and shaming only seem to provoke heel-in-the-sand reactions and encourage retreat. So how does one persuasively sway opinion and convince the skeptics of the safety and utility of vaccinating against preventable diseases?

Perhaps going the pop culture route is the way to go – this outbreak did start in the world of Walt Disney, after all! In 1977, the Centers for Disease Control did just that, using “the Force” of two characters from the one of the most popular movies in cinematic history.

The poster for the clever Star Wars Public Service Announcement featuring C-3PO and R2-D2 from the CDC and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare encouraging parents to vaccinate their children against preventable infections. Click for source.

The poster for the clever Star Wars Public Service Announcement featuring C-3PO and R2-D2 from the CDC and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare encouraging parents to vaccinate their children against preventable infections.

The short commercial below features the popular Star Wars characters C-3PO and R2-D2 speaking directly to the “parents of Earth” of the necessity of vaccinating their children fully against polio, measles and whooping cough and the dangers of not doing so.

As C-3PO admonishes a coughing R2-D2, “Droids don’t get diseases like whooping cough, or measles, or polio. But children do. All you need is a little rewiring but children need to be fully immunized but, alas, so many are not.”

Could the same propaganda tactic work today? Perhaps the Walt Disney Company, reeling from the painful truism that the world is truly small (after all), should take a page from the CDC’s book and use WALL-E and EVE to fill the shoes of C-3PO and R2-D2 as vaccine-pushing droids.

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  • Brett Champion

    It’s amazing to think that I’m just 40 years-old and no one ever got these diseases when I was a kid, at least no one in the US. It’s like we’ve stepped back into Victorian times.

  • Bonnie Russell

    Brett, I am not an example of life in Victorian times (although my father was) I suffered through measles, German measles, mumps, chicken pox, and survived, although many of my friends were left with lifelong results (horrendous scarring, heart condition, etc) the big boogyman of that time was polio. When the Salk vaccine became available, my father was sceptical, but since every year one of my playmate would emerge from the swimming pool with polio and either die or be crippled for life, he made sure we were vaccinated. My daughter is your age and you can be sure she has had her shots except for varicella (chicken pox) which was not available when she was small. I remember how miserable she was, covered with nasty pustules and so sick while trying not to scratch. So it really wasn’t so long ago that these diseases ran rampant throughout this country. In my father’s time, it was diphtheria, typhoid, and cholera. Public sanitation put a big dent in those and thank God vaccines are now available. Meningitis is another that made a grand appearance only a few years ago, and now most colleges and Universities will not open the doors of their dormitories to unvaxxed students.

    • http://1389blog.com/ 1389AD

      Some years ago, I came down with whooping cough, as an adult, with catastrophic results. This was just before the recommendations came out to give pertussis boosters to adolescents and adults.

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Body Horrors

Body Horrors looks at the history, anthropology and geography of infectious diseases and parasites.

About Rebecca Kreston

Rebecca Kreston is an infectious disease scholar trained in microbiology and epidemiology. She obtained her Biology degree from Reed College and her Masters of Science in Tropical Medicine from Tulane University. She's lived in tropical jungles, beaches and deserts around the world and has been exposed to several of the diseases that she studies. She currently lives in New Orleans, is a fourth year medical student and regularly battles insects of the Diptera, Siphonaptera and Hymenoptera orders.

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