Don’t Hesitate. Vaccinate.

By Ginny A. Roth

Parents of Earth, Are Your Children Fully Immunized?

This 1977 poster titled “Parents of Earth, Are Your Children Fully Immunized?” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, features Star Wars characters C-3PO and R2D2 asking parents to make sure that their children are properly immunized.  These characters were particularly suitable for promoting immunization in 1977 because they were familiar to both parents and children due to the unprecedented popularity of the film which opened that year.  This poster, and its accompanying television commercial, likely captured the attention of many viewers and over 3 decades later is still memorable.

The 1970s was an active and important decade in the history of vaccines.  In 1971, the U.S. government licensed Merck’s measles, mumps, and rubella combination vaccine (M-M-R); in 1974, The World Health Organization included BCG in the list of vaccines recommended for its new Expanded Programme on Immunization for developing countries (In 1974, many childhood diseases had almost disappeared from developed countries. These diseases, however, continued to take many lives in poorer countries); in 1976 reported cases of whooping cough (pertussis) had been dropping in the United States since the introduction of the combined DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine in 1948; 1977 marked the year that Dr. Robert Austrian’s, pneumococcal vaccine that he had developed one year earlier and had proven safe and effective in clinical trials among South African gold miners, was licensed by Merck; in 1978 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a goal of eliminating measles from the United States by 1982 (Although this goal would not be met, widespread vaccination drastically reduced the incidence of the disease, and it would be declared eliminated in the country by 2000); in 1979 the rubella vaccines licensed in 1969 were replaced in the United States by American physician Stanley A.  Plotkin’s newly licensed RA27/3 vaccine, which had been used in Europe for years and provided superior protection to that of the earlier vaccines (Plotkin’s vaccine also replaced the original rubella vaccine in the combined M-M-R shot, and is still used today).

Research has shown the importance of vaccinating children before they attend school. By 1922, despite public opposition, many United States schools required smallpox vaccination before children could attend.  But vaccines are not just for children.  They help prevent dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases in all age groups, and what better month to promote immunization than August, which is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM).  This month highlights the need for improving national immunization coverage levels and encourages all people to protect their health by being immunized against infectious diseases.  During the month, state and local public health departments across the country will be promoting back-to-school immunizations, encouraging college students to catch up on immunizations before they move into dormitories, and reminding everyone that immunizations are needed through adulthood. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides guidelines for who should get a vaccine, and when.

portrait of Ginny Roth outsideGinny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

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