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definitely harm a public health initiative, because some of the information posted by Carrey, and others like him, was outdated and some was completely incorrect.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?