Why Facebook Founder's Pro-Vax Stance Matters

The contributions that celebrities make in raising awareness for a cause can be invaluable.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently posted a photo of himself holding his baby daughter with the caption: “Doctor’s visit—time for vaccines!” The image generated a tremendous amount of attention, garnering more than 3 million likes and nearly 70,000 comments in just 3 days.1

The contributions that celebrities make in raising awareness for a cause can be invaluable. For instance, it wasn’t until famous individuals started to become infected with HIV that the AIDS pandemic began to resonate with the public.2

In today’s world, celebrities’ ability to reach large audiences through social media is substantial, as demonstrated by Zuckerberg’s post.

Focusing on human vaccination, data show that current vaccines are the safest in history,3 yet a concerning portion of the population goes unvaccinated.4 In turn, we see things such as the nearly 200 cases of measles that cropped up in the United States in 2015.5 That was an unfortunate occurrence, especially since measles is a vaccine-preventable disease that had previously been declared eliminated from the United States in 2000.6

For vaccination awareness, celebrities can substantially boost the spread and effectiveness of important public health campaigns such as the World Health Organization’s World Immunizations Week from April 24 to 30, 2016, and the National Public Health Information Coalition’s National Immunization Awareness Month in August.

Notably, vaccination awareness is not the only infectious diseases topic in need of attention. A great need also exists in improving public awareness of antimicrobial resistance.

This was demonstrated in a recently published systematic review that examined the public’s knowledge and beliefs regarding antibiotic resistance. The authors found that many individuals have an incomplete understanding of antibiotic resistance and do not believe they contribute to its development.7

While problems related to bacterial resistance persist, it’s worth considering whether it would truly take something as unfortunate and alarming as a tragic celebrity death to awaken politicians and the public to the threat of bacterial drug resistance, which was suggested by a leading infectious diseases pharmacist from the United Kingdom.8

Looking forward, we will certainly not wish for harm to come to any celebrities, but we should hope that more famous individuals like Zuckerberg will step forward and help raise public awareness of pressing issues facing the infectious diseases community.

References

1. Photo of Mark Zuckerberg’s baby getting vaccinated ignites online squabble. 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/photo-mark-zuckerberg-s-baby-getting-vaccinated-ignites-online-squabble-n494276. Accessed January 12, 2016.

2. Appelbaum PC. 2012 and beyond: potential for the start of a second pre-antibiotic era? J Antimicrob Chemother. 2012;67:2062-2068.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine safety. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/index.html. Accessed January 13, 2016.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Immunization. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/immunize.htm. Accessed January 13, 2016.

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles cases and outbreaks.. http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html. Accessed January 13, 2016.

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently asked questions about measles in the U.S. http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html. Accessed January 13, 2016.

7. McCullough AR, et al. A systematic review of the public’s knowledge and beliefs about antibiotic resistance. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2015;71:27-33.

8. Pharmacist warns it ‘may take celebrity death’ to highlight threat of antibiotic resistance. University Hospital Southhampton NHS. http://www.uhs.nhs.uk/AboutTheTrust/Newsandpublications/Latestnews/2013/Pharmacist-warns-it-may-take-celebrity-death-to-highlight-threat-of-antibiotic-resistance.aspx. Accessed January 13, 2016.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States government.