National Post (National Edition)
WHY STORIES ABOUT CELEBS GETTING VACCINES MATTER
It's October 1956 in New York City. The man's got a toothy grin and Brylcreemed ducktailed hair. There's a shiver in the air, for the man is a star. He rolls up his sleeve. A doctor steps forward and sticks a needle in his bicep. Applause — and a sigh from the producers. They've got their money shot: Elvis has had the vaccine. Here's why that's relevant today.
1 TEENS STILL THINK THEY'RE INVINCIBLE
In 1956, a polio epidemic was rampant. Officials needed widespread takeup of the new vaccine. Teenagers believed themselves less vulnerable to the disease, but in fact thousands suffered its impact. Elvis (whose career had just gone stratospheric with Heartbreak Hotel) getting the jab on The Ed Sullivan Show was the publicity coup that worked. In 1954, nearly 40,000 contracted polio and 1,450 died; a year later, there were 5,500 cases and only 221 deaths.
2 CULTURAL SEA CHANGE
A combination of the growing cachet of celebrity and the birth of the teenager meant Elvis and other stars could tap into kids at sock hops and soda bars. Teens against Polio put on dances with free entry for those who had a vaccination certificate; and teens with polio gave talks at schools. There was even a move to nudge girls into denying boys dates who didn't get the vaccine — “No shot? No date, buddy.”
3 COULD IT WORK TODAY?
Using celebrities is a two-edged sword, with 23 per cent of Americans, 20 per cent of Brits and 14 per cent of Canadians saying they would refuse a COVID vaccine. While a big name could spur fans to get the shot, there are also celebrity anti-vaxxers who might lead others to be more vocal in opposition.
4 WHO WILL IT BE?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he will publicly get the vaccine “when it's my turn.” We've seen U.S. president-elect Joe Biden get his, and Boris Johnson has said he will get one publicly as well. But a global, non-political role model would go a long way to boosting numbers. So, who best to lead the charge? David Attenborough is one name being tossed about. Beyoncé? Daniel Craig? Lionel Messi?