Parents, Celebrities, and Vaccines

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In our world today, it seems that everyone has magically become experts on human health, and particularly on risks and benefits of vaccines. This past week, California’s governor Jerry Brown signed SB 277 into effect, which prohibits parents from using “personal or religious beliefs to get around school vaccination requirements for their children” (https://publichealthwatch.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/california-legislature-passes-ban-on-vaccine-exemptions/). As expected, there was an outpour of responses, both pro and con, following the announcement. For example, Jim Carrey went on a twitter rant (https://twitter.com/jimcarrey) and posted multiple tweets, which were quickly picked up by the mass media. Comments started appearing on well-known parental blogs, mommy forums, school sites and etc. As people began voicing their support for Carrey, and other celebrities like him, it became apparent that some people were agreeing with his opinions, only because they “enjoy the movies that he appeared in”, or “have always been fond of his personality”. As someone who is passionate about this topic, it is alarming to me that celebrities may have such an impact on the public. Such negative reaction can definitely harm a public health initiative, because some of the information posted by Carrey, and others like him, was outdated and some was completely incorrect.

 

Despite the potential negative effect of celebrities on public health, their strong influence could also be used as an advantage to help gain support for health care organizations. Government, non-profit and other organizations could use celebrity personas to gain support for their health campaigns. For example, PETA launched a very successful “I’d rather go naked, than wear fur” campaign to bring down fur sales (http://www.peta.org/videos/id-rather-go-naked-than-wear-fur/). By recruiting big name celebrities, like Joanna Krupa, Khloe Kardashian, Pink and others, PETA was able to bring fur sales to a historic low. If CDC, or other similar organizations, decided to use celebrity endorsement to spread their message about vaccines, or other public health initiative, then they could gain more followers and supporters for their message. Celebrities are already voicing their support for children’s hospital, cancer awareness, HIV/AIDS walks and etc., so why not use their support for other public health initiatives? Using celebrities can also help spread the message across the world, since celebrities often travel to multiple countries to promote their work or are from other countries originally. For example, Sofia Vergara joined a group of well-known celebrities to support St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital (https://www.looktothestars.org/charity/st-jude-childrens-research-hospital). Her influence in the Latino community and message in Spanish helped spread awareness to others of a similar background and gain support from people in Latin America.

 

Organizations would have to be very careful when choosing their celebrity representatives, since people will be quick to form associations between the two. Choosing the appropriate representative will be key to the campaign’s success. However, if chosen properly, celebrities and public personas can help spread information about public health campaigns. Maybe CDC should consider a few representatives, who would be willing to go head-to-head with Jim Carrey in a twitter battle about vaccine effectiveness?

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6 thoughts on “Parents, Celebrities, and Vaccines

  1. Luda,
    I do think it is really interesting we both circled around celebrities in our two independent blog posts. I think it is because blogging in general and social media as a whole is associated with celebrity. I agree with you that to be effective in a social media context it will be important to incorporate the incumbent pundits of this world, which happen to be pop culture oriented public figures. I think that is probably we both referenced this–and it is no secret that the public health world hasn’t quite embraced this as it’s strategy yet. But, with incidents like Jenny Mcarthy, it is already working against in the opposite direction.

  2. Great post Luda,
    I agree with you that public figures strong influence can be used as an advantage to help gain support for health care organizations. They have huge fan following and they should convey some good messages.

  3. Luda,
    This is a topic close to my heart, and one I’ve been following for years, so thanks for covering it! 🙂
    I remember that the last time Jim Carrey made a huge fuss about vaccines, (3 years ago?) there was a Hollywood actress who was part of a pro-vax campaign. I believe it was Amanda Peet, as part of Every Child By Two. But you’re right, to counter someone as well known as Carrey you’d need a big-name celebrity, and one that wouldn’t do more harm than good. Brad Pitt, maybe? He’s got lots of kids.
    Margot

  4. Brad Pitt would be good 🙂 I do wish that we as a society didn’t have to resort to the “battle of the celebrities” to convey important public health messages, like vaccines. However, given that these figures are so influential in our society, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to try!

  5. Awesome post Luda! I personally think that it’s not right that celebrities have such a huge impact on society. But it is the reality nonetheless! And part of creating a change means we need to leverage key resources and people that will have a big impact. So I think that your idea to involve celebrities for promoting and endorsing public health initiatives is a great one!

  6. Luda, engaging and timely post! It was great that you used the picture of the baby with the syringe at the top – that really drew me in. The baby is cute and even though he/she looks calm, it is a bit hard to see her/him getting the shot. Especially coming from the public health perspective, I usually have absolute support for vaccinations, but the image put me in a slightly more neutral frame of mind. I think that’s actually a good thing because it made me think more about what you were writing about vs. my own knowledge of the issue.
    The other thing you did that I really liked was end the post with a question. This left me thinking about the topic and wanting to know more. It could be an incentive to a reader to do some personal research or to follow your blog.
    The only real suggestion I have is not really possible in this scenario, but if it were the real world I think it would be great to have a picture of one of the celebrities and/or campaigns you mention. I expect this would cost money, but I think it would be worth it because it would visually engage people.

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