It's absolutely insane that there is still a debate about vaccines in 2019. Not just a debate, an actual fight! Decades and decades of medical research prove the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Yet, thanks to one debunked study by a discredited and disgraced former doctor, we're still doing this. One need only check the news to see how this dumb debate is harming people. 2018 gave us a near-record outbreak of measles, a disease preventable by a vaccine. Already in 2019, we're seeing outbreaks of vaccine-controlled diseases all over the country and world. It's terrifying and it's putting people at risk. Unfortunately, the anti-vax movement appears to be growing at an alarming rate. Anti-vaxxers are loud, but so are we. And these pro-vaccine celebrities are using their platforms to spread truth and science.
You might be wondering why we need pro-vaccine celebrities. Well, we shouldn't! We shouldn't need a celeb to tell us their stance on life-saving vaccines. But ... here we are. We've seen how much damage one celebrity has done to vaccination rates (looking at you, Jenny McCarthy). And we all know how celebrity-driven out country and culture is, right? So if it takes pro-vaccine celebrities to speak up and out about vaccinating your kids, so be it. We'll take all the help we can get!
In the early 1950's, the polio epidemic was in full swing. In 1950 alone, the virus claimed a whopping 33,000 victims, most of them under the age of 10. It was a devastating and scary time. In 1954, human trials of the Salk vaccine began, but hesitancy over the vaccine's efficacy and possible side effects made compliance tricky. So some of the world's biggest movie and television stars took part in campaigns to encourage parents to vaccinate their kids against polio. A few months after the start of the human trials, two million school-aged children had been vaccinated. The trials ended in 1955, and within a few years of Jonas Salk's vaccine being licensed, the number of polio cases decreased by 50%. By the 60's, it feel to just a few thousand cases a year. Nowadays, polio is considered completely eradicated in the US.
Lewis Carroll might be most known for his wacky and whimsical literary masterpieces. But one thing he wasn't fantastical about was vaccines. In 1877, Carroll responded to a letter published in the Eastbourne Chronicle. The writer of the letter, Mr. W Hume-Rothery, claimed that the smallpox vaccine was actually causing smallpox in large numbers of people. Carroll responded to the letter using his real name, Charles L. Dodgson. He refuted Hume-Rothery's claims, and a long and contentious correspondence took place. Carroll, having made his point, "retired after the third round". Seemingly setting the stage for future tenaciously wrong anti-vaxxers, Hume-Rothery continued writing letters until the editor finally put an end to the correspondence.
Roald Dahl gave us some of the most delightful books in the history of literature. But his own personal pain turned him into a vaccine advocate. In 1962, he lost his beloved daughter Olivia to measles encephalitis. He dedicated two books to her memory, and wrote a heartbreaking essay about her death where he said it was "almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised".
"Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything. 'Are you feeling all right?' I asked her. 'I feel all sleepy,' she said. In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead."
Internationally renowned actress Salma Hayek is also a pro-vaccine celebrity activist. In 2008, she teamed up with UNICEF and Pampers on a coalition to eliminate maternal and newborn tetanus through vaccination. Worldwide, tetanus was responsible for one newborn death every three minutes and approximately 30,000 maternal deaths a year. Hayek said, "The thought of losing a child to a disease which can be easily prevented seems unbearable, especially when it is within our power to prevent it. If you knew how to help save a child’s life, what could stop you?" Through the campaign, Proctor & Gamble donated the cost of one tetanus shot for every pack of Pampers sold.
We love Kristen Bell for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of how she speaks so openly about motherhood. She walks the walk and talks the talk! But we love her even more for being vaccine advocate. Kristen says, "It's a very simple logic: I believe in trusting doctors, not know-it-alls". In fact, she and husband Dax Shepard laid down some pretty strict ground rules when their first daughter was born. "When Lincoln was born, the whooping cough epidemic was growing, and before she was 2 months old, we simply said [to friends], 'You have to get a whooping cough vaccination if you are going to hold our baby."
We forget that vaccinating our kids is only the first step in protection. Adults who will be spending time around babies also need to be vaccinated! On an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim insisted that her family members get their Tdap vaccine before they could visit new baby North. In fact, she was so adamant about it that when one sister refused, Kim told her she wouldn't be able to be around North! Spoiler alert: that sister got her Tdap vaccine. Tdap protects children against pertussis, which can be catastrophic in newborns. Since newborns are too young to receive the shot, adults and kids around them can create a herd immunity by being vaccinated against it.
Image: Facebook/Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
John Oliver covers a lot of topics on his late-night show. We love his wit and sarcasm, but when it comes to serious topics like vaccines, he pulls no punches. Oliver routinely takes on corruption and scams, and he's covered "big pharma" plenty of times. Lots of people reject vaccines because they don't trust pharmaceutical companies. But Oliver fights back against that "conspiracy theory", and spends lots of time debunking the myths surrounding vaccines and autism. The more we have people like this speaking out on truths and myths about vaccines, the better chances we have of the information reaching those who need to hear it.
We owe a lot of the technology we use today to Bill Gates. But these days, he and wife Melinda spend their time (and money) doing philanthropy. Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the couple has pledged $10 billion to fund what they're calling "the decade of vaccines". Their goal is to increase vaccination rates around the world by 2020, which could save as many as 8 million children. They're focusing on increasing vaccine access, improving routine immunizations, introducing new vaccines, and ramping up research and development. There aren't many people in the world with the resources the Gates' have, so we're glad they're on the side of science!
Jennifer Garner served as the spokeswoman for the American Lung Association's Faces of Influenza education campaign. The flu can be deadly for small children and people with compromised immune systems. It can even kill healthy kids and adults. Despite the risks, plenty of people choose to forgo the flu shot every year. Garner says, "One in three children get influenza, and more than 100 children die every year from this disease -- these are facts that no mother or parent wants to hear. I want to help make sure that all moms across the country understand that influenza is serious and that vaccination should be a family priority."
Sarah Michelle Gellar teamed up with the March of Dimes and the Sounds of Pertussis campaign to spread awareness about the importance of vaccines for the entire family. According to the Sounds of Pertussis campaign, 80% of infants who get pertussis got it from a family member. An astonishing 50% get it from their parents. It's just as important for adults to be vaccinated against the disease as it is for kids. Says Gellar, "As any new parent will tell you, the greatest fear is a newborn getting sick. Can you imagine if you were the one that did it?"
Amanda Peet definitely hasn't shied away from the controversy surrounding vaccines. The star received hate mail after partnering with pro-vaccine organization Every Child By Two. Peet says, "I think I'm just a concerned mom, and now that I have a newborn who's too young to be vaccinated, it really hit home for me. I think we've just kind of lost our sense of neighborliness. Even if it's not your child, your neighbor could have an infant at home or somebody whose immunity is compromised. Shouldn't we all be in this together?" She continues, "It's really scary. What's it going to take before we all get in this together? Are we going to see infant mortality rates? Because that would be infuriating and so tragic."
As a mom of twins, Jennifer Lopez understands how important it is for parents and family members to vaccinate themselves against pertussis. She teamed up with the Sounds of Pertussis campaign to spread the word. Lopez says, "This issue is important to me. I didn't know too much about it before becoming a parent but whooping cough is on the rise. There have been a significant increase in reported cases over the past decade". She continues, "Parents don't realize that they can get pertussis and transmit the disease to their babies." Babies can be protected by getting their parents getting the Tdap vaccine before they're born and are old enough to be vaccinated themselves.
Kristi Yamaguchi competed as an ice skater at the highest levels of competition, and skated circles around her competitors. If anyone understands the importance of keeping your body as healthy as possible, it's Kristi! Yamaguchi is an advocate for the flu vaccine. She says, "Being a skater, I was skating in competitions through flu season so we had to be protected,” she recalls. “I remember having the flu once when I was a teenager, but my mom was always very good at getting us vaccinated." Yamaguchi also served as a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association's Face of Influenza campaign.
When President Obama was still in office, he and First lady Michelle Obama encouraged people to get their flu shots. They were even photographed being vaccinated together! President Obama says, "I think people just need to understand: If I had the two people that are most important in my life, my two daughters, get it right away -- and they've been just fine with it and in fact haven't gotten sick this entire flu season -- then you need to know that you need to make sure your children get it as well." The flu shot isn't perfect, but it's the best protection we have against the virus!
Actress Marissa Jaret Winokur is one of our pro-vaccine celebrities, and her reasons are very personal. In 2000, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She lost her cervix and uterus after finding out the cancer had spread, but luckily has been cancer-free for over 18 years now. Marissa says, "I learned about a year ago that HPV, a common virus, causes cervical cancer. Now there is an HPV test that might have caught my precancerous cells earlier. There’s a vaccine, which can be given to women before they’re sexually active. It makes sense to take these precautions. I’ll encourage my friends’ teenage daughters to get vaccinated."
Keri Russell is another pro-vaccine celeb who lent her voice to the Sounds of Pertussis campaign. After becoming a mom, Keri began educating others about the importance of the Tdap vaccine. She says, "I learned that pertussis, or whooping cough, has been on the rise in recent years, even though it is a vaccine-preventable disease. Following the birth of our son River, I spoke with my pediatrician about what I could do to protect our young child. She recommended my husband and I both get the pertussis booster. My pediatrician explained that parents actually cause more than half the cases in infants, which is why it is so important for adults and adolescents in close contact with infants to be immunized."