Bright idea: Get celebrities to promote vaccination amid polio outbreak

September 23, 2019 - 1:34 PM
American "Rock and Roll King" Elvis Presley helped bring polio immunization into awareness. (Official Gazette)

Amid the reemergence of polio in the Philippines, a Reddit user suggested that the Department of Health should consider harnessing the influence of famous personalities to encourage participation in immunization campaigns.

Reddit user “valentino3434” shared a social media post that noted how American “Rock and Roll King” Elvis Presley played a role in beating polio on the United States through his involvement in their vaccination program before.

“With the recent polio outbreak, they should get influencers in showbiz or somewhere to help out,” the user wrote.

A picture of the music legend publicly receiving a polio vaccination from doctors at the CBS Studios in 1956 was included in the post.

With the recent polio outbreak they should get influencers in showbiz or somewhere to help out. from Philippines

Apparently, Presley was tapped to encourage American teenagers to get vaccinated against the infectious disease when their country suffered from the outbreak in the “first half of the twentieth century,” according to historian Stephen Mawdsley.

“As many as 57,000 new cases were being reported every year in the early 1950s. Not only was this a painful illness, it had grave economic consequences. Thousands of survivors required expensive acute and convalescent care, and many suffered from lasting paralysis,” he recalled.

Mawdsley added that officials tapped Presley since teenagers, who were also vulnerable to the disease, were not getting vaccinated at that time.

“Elvis was approached to provide publicity aimed at teenagers and agreed to help to put things right,” the historian said.

Presley was photographed receiving a polio vaccine shot before he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as part of his support to a grassroots campaign supporting polio victims and research on the disease—the March of Dimes.

March of Dimes also went door-to-door and organized dances where only vaccinated teenagers could attend.

Their efforts resulted in a significant decrease in yearly polio incidents by almost 90 percent between 1950 to 1960.

“Getting teenagers to take up the vaccine was critically important, and that success shows that it is possible to reach hard-to-influence groups—if you involve them in the right manner,” Mawdsley said.

Faces of immunization

Many Reddit users in the thread agreed with the original poster’s suggestion, with some of them even citing more examples.

A user recalled that world-renowned boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao was tapped by the health agency to promote vaccination against measles earlier this year.

Pacquiao appeared in a video titled “Knock out tigdas (measles)” with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

“Sa boxing sagot ko kayo. Pero sa laban sa tigdas, dapat magkasama tayo,” the boxer-politician exclaimed.

Another Reddit user thought that the DOH should tap Coco Martin of “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano” to promote polio vaccination since the primetime show enjoys high viewership ratings which could translate to more public awareness about the campaign.

“Dapat gamitin natin si Coco Martin na influencer. Sigurado panalo ang campaign ‘pag “Ang Probinsyano” ang dumale,” the user wrote.

Another user mentioned how the DOH reshared catchy music videos of “Bakuna Boys” on social media to encourage the public to avail of the government’s free immunization programs amid the measles outbreak.

While its members were not officially celebrities, the music videos were enough to catch the interest of the pop music-loving public.

Polio in the Philippines 

Polio, a highly contagious disease, found its way in the country when a three-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur was reported to have contracted Type 2 of the condition on Thursday, September 19.

It was considered the first confirmed case of polio since the World Health Organization declared the country polio-free in 2000. The last case recorded was in 1993.

DOH said that the girl was now discharged from the hospital, although she has “residual paralysis.”

Poliovirus was also detected in samples acquired from sewage in Manila and waterways in Davao, the health agency said.

On Friday, another case of polio was reported in Laguna, where a five-year-old boy was afflicted.

Lanao del Sur and Laguna are about 1,400 kilometers apart, according to Reuters.

Polio is an extremely infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can cause complete paralysis or loss of the muscle’s ability to function for hours.

Its initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs.

The virus can be transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or through contaminated food or water.

While the disease cannot be cured, it can be prevented by multiple immunizations, according to WHO.

The health department is already preparing to launch synchronized oral polio vaccinations with the coordination of local government units and concerned national agencies for preventive measures.

Duque also urged the public to observe proper hygiene at all times.

“Aside from immunization, we remind the public to practice good personal hygiene, wash their hands regularly, use toilets, drink safe water, and cook food thoroughly,” he said.