Celebrities Aim To Silence The Sounds of Pertussis

This week I surprised myself when I tweeted:

I happened to catch a portion of last week's episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.  While not usually a fan of the content/messages on that show, I was thrilled to see that Pertussis (Whooping Cough) was discussed.  Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal when contracted by infants.  Research has shown that the majority of infants who get Pertussis get it from a family member.

Since Kim Kardashian would be staying at the family home with a newborn, her mother Kris brought their family physician in to vaccinate everyone who would come in contact with the baby.  That included the baby's grandparents and aunts/uncles.  What a great preventative health behavior to model on TV!

The show brought me back to a blog post I wrote last year to summarize my reactions to the PBS Frontline special "The Vaccine War".  One question I posed to readers was:

How can public health compete with the media and the internet?

One solution that I proposed:  Let's remember to share the spotlight with celebrities and other spokespeople that have influence over the public.  With anti-vaccine advocates often getting the spotlight (cough...Jenny McCarthy co-hosting The View), we often overlook that there are pro-vaccine celebrities.

This week, a colleague on Twitter shared the link to Jennifer Lopez's PSA for the Sounds of Pertussis campaign.  It was impressive.  First, for the selection of "JLo"- a mother of twins, who is known worldwide for her dancing, singing, and acting.  People are obviously interested in what she has to say- as evidenced by her 25+ million Twitter followers.  Second, her PSA includes the actual sound of a baby with Pertussis.  This is helpful because (1) it educates the public regarding what this cough actually sounds like and (2) without words it portrays the seriousness of the condition.  The baby on the recording is gasping for air.  As Jennifer points out, this sound is hard to hear for 60 seconds on the PSA...let alone coming from your own child.

The Sounds of Pertussis campaign is a joint effort between the March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasteur.  They have recruited other celebrities such as actress Sarah Michelle Geller and NASCAR Champ Jeff Gordon.  The campaign website includes both educational materials (e.g., information on transmission) and action oriented materials (e.g., a Grandparents' Guide to Pertussis that includes a pledge to get vaccinated).  The campaign has also expanded its use of social media to include a Facebook component called "Breathing Room".  This component allows new parents to educate their connections about Pertussis and invite them to take the pledge to get vaccinated.          

What Do You Think?

Can these pro-vaccine celebrities compete with the anti-vaccine messages we often see in the media/internet?  Why or why not?Do you think that the Sounds of Pertussis campaign addresses some of the key barriers to adult vaccination (e.g., low perceived risk to self or baby?)

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