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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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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