Thomas J. Madden, Chairman and CEO, Transmedia Group
Hey Hollywood, America needs you once again if we’re ever going to reach that safe zone called herd immunity. You need to come out strong against vaccine hesitancy
Back in the 1960s it was Hollywood stars like Elvis Presley who flashed their iconic smiles and stuck out their arms to counter trypanophobia, an irrational fear of injections or hypodermic needles.
Today it’s surging again as thousands of people are leery about joining the herd. They’re afraid of getting vaccinated after an infinitesimal percentage of women developed blood clots from their J&J shots. It’s so irrational as tens of millions of us have breezed through vaccinations without a hitch and are now protected from COVID.
But to stay safe we need 80 to 90 percent of our population vaccinated.
Yet today there are vestiges of that same fear in people today who’ll need to be coaxed or persuaded that vaccines available are not only effective, but astoundingly safe.
Back in the 1950’s, the Salk vaccine against polio had just been produced and millions of young children were being vaccinated. Teenagers, who were also vulnerable to polio, however, were not taking up the vaccine.
So New York City Department of Health launched a massive publicity campaign to promote vaccination against polio. The following year nearly a million New Yorkers were vaccinated, and the number of new cases declined sharply.
Elvis to the Rescue
A highlight of the campaign occurred backstage at CBS Studio 50 before an airing of The Ed Sullivan Show.
It was there that New York City Commissioner of Health Leona Baumgartner held the arm of Elvis Presley as Assistant Commissioner Harold Fuerst administered the polio vaccine to the king of rock n roll, Elvis Presley. And so, Elvis was recruited to boost teenager take-up of the polio vaccine.
In 1963, the health commissioner at that time announced that vaccination had reduced the number of new cases in Gotham to zero.
It was one of Presley’s most valiant ventures. The king of rock’n’roll had just been enjoying his success with singles such as Heartbreak Hotel, when he was given that unexpected medical challenge. Would he agree to be vaccinated against polio in front of the press before the show? He did.
The resulting photographs were published in newspapers across the US. “Presley Receives a City Polio Shot,” announced The New York Times.
The publicity worked in closing the “immunization gap” that exists between those who get vaccines for diseases and many today fearful of taking a shot that will help to protect us all in what’s called “herd immunity.”
So perhaps President Biden better start recruiting some rappers and other singing stars, Hollywood movie and TV stars and other celebrities to roll up their sleeves, smile at the cameras and take one for the team.
If not, many of us might wind up checking into Heartbreak Hotel.