Star Wars and Vaccines

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a couple of famous droids asked an important question:

Parents of earth, are your children fully immunized?

Actually, it was 1977, when the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Centers for Disease Control put C-3P0 and R2-D2 on a poster that “gently but effectively recommends that children be fully immunized.”

star-wars
Courtesy David J. Sencer CDC Museum

They also did a PSA the next year about whooping cough, measles, and polio, with C-3PO explaining that “if a child gets whooping cough, it can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, and even death…,” and that “children need to be fully immunized.”

Why were they used to try and get kids vaccinated?

While 1977 might not seem like that long ago, especially if you remember seeing the “first” Star Wars movie when it came out in theaters, keep in mind that in the United States, there were still:

  • 84 cases of diphtheria and 5 deaths
  • 87 cases of tetanus and 24 deaths
  • 2,177 cases of pertussis and 10 deaths
  • 19 cases of polio and 16 deaths
  • 57,345 cases of measles and 15 deaths
  • 21,436 cases of mumps and 5 deaths
  • 20,395 cases of rubella and 17 deaths
  • 29 cases of congenital rubella syndrome
  • 188,396 cases of chicken pox and 89 deaths

While vaccination rates increased and disease rates and deaths fell in the following years, it probably wasn’t because of our friendly droids. President Jimmy Carter’s National Childhood Immunization Initiative was launched in 1977, increasing vaccination rates from 70% to over 90% in three years!

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