Grading Celebrities on How Much They’ve Hyped the Vaccine

“Presley Receives a City Polio Shot” read a New York Times headline on October 29, 1956. “Singer Sets an Example for Teen-Agers.” At the time, less than 1% of American teenagers were vaccinated against polio. Six months later, more than 80% of young Americans were vaccinated. Eventually, polio was eliminated. 

Celebrity endorsements won’t be the one big push that moves Americans to get vaccines, because everyone needs to work to spread accurate information. In the ’50s and ’60s, American teens created a mass, national grassroots movement to raise vaccine rates. A giant network of teen volunteers ran media campaigns, put on “Salk Hops,” and reached over color lines and financial divides. Regular people did the work. 

But they needed help from household names like Elvis and Debbie Reynolds. And getting vaccinated didn’t exactly snuff out Elvis’s career. The next year he released three number one hits, including “All Shook Up.” Perhaps it helped that he looked very hot while getting his vaccine. His skin looks like a baby that has been FaceTuned.  

Today celebrities should be working harder to promote the COVID-19 vaccine. Celebrities are not that busy. They can afford childcare. They do not have to clean their own homes, shop for their own clothing, or occasionally touch the mouse on their computers to keep their Slack icon active. 

This isn’t an attack on celebs—bless them! We love them for their shiny hair and expressive faces and commitment to showing us every possible outcome of getting back together with your ex. But the least they could do is set aside some time to promote the lifesaving, free vaccine that’s been made available to all Americans as the national death toll from COVID continues to rise past 600,000. Celebrities who got the vaccine have an obligation to talk about it to their giant fanbases. 

There is no doubt that vaccines are safe and save lives. According to the latest data, between 94% and 99.8% of people who have died from COVID were unvaccinated. More than 96% of doctors are vaccinated, as are 96% of U.S. senators (that includes Democrats and Republicans). But only about 50% of Americans are vaccinated. 

Every death from COVID is tragic. Everyone can help save lives by getting vaccinated and talking to their friends and family about why they chose to. Celebrities just have a slightly bigger circle of friends than most of us. And some of them are actually crushing this job—talking regularly and warmly about the importance of the vaccine, even though they’re bound to lose followers over it. Other celebrities are being very, very quiet. 

Let’s take a noncomprehensive look at who’s taking time to save lives.

Dolly Parton 

Has any celebrity done more than Dolly Parton to stop the tide of death from COVID-19?  This woman is the closest thing we have to an angel. Her $1 million donation to medical research at Vanderbilt University ended up funding multiple projects, including one that helped in the creation of the Moderna vaccine. (Moderna gang, hello, you all look incredible today.)

She has talked publicly about the vaccine and filmed her experience getting it. She sang “Jolene” but replaced the name with “vaccine.” Celebrities: This is the gold standard. Ask your publicist how to donate money to science research today. 

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