In 1956, Elvis Presley got a polio vaccination on the Ed Sullivan Show. The shot was newly available and highly effective — but too few teenagers and young adults were getting vaccinated, so the devastating disease was still circulating. Officials turned to Presley to set an example and encourage people to get their shots. Along with other campaigns, the celebrity endorsement helped vaccination rates go up, and eventually, the disease was eliminated from the country.
That bit of history raises a very important question: who will be the Elvis Presley of the COVID-19 vaccine? The vaccine won’t help slow the pandemic if people don’t take it, and many people still say they aren’t sure if they will.
Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton already said they’ll take the vaccine in public, as did Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That’s a great start — but for an unprecedented vaccination campaign, we probably need more famous people on board. Celebrities can’t be the only way officials encourage people to roll up their sleeves (vaccine communication is complicated!), but it might help.
Here’s who The Verge staffers think should get vaccinated in public.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - She is literally the queen. This won’t mean much to anyone with even the smallest anti-authoritarian leaning, but for many from a certain generation, Queen Elizabeth represents an uncomplicated bygone era where a stiff upper lip was all you needed to get through the toughest of hardships. Broadcasting her vaccination would send a powerful message, not least about the safety of the vaccine. Broadcast it anywhere where viewership trends older, like traditional broadcast channels. — Jon Porter
Donald Fagen of Steely Dan - I’ll start with the obvious: Donald Fagen is not a beloved or even particularly famous pop star. But at 72, Fagen is at the forefront of the generation most at risk for COVID-19, and he still holds a powerful sway over his age cohort. He’s also a known conservative and a longstanding skeptic of grand paternalist schemes — exactly the kind of person vaccine developers need to win over. If inoculating Fagen can get the vast silent majority of Steely Dan aficionados on board, it could be a huge service to public health. — Russell Brandom
Gwyneth Paltrow — There’s no one group that defines the anti-vaxxer. But rich, white people are more likely than most to decline vaccines for their children. A few years back, they made headlines for skipping measles vaccinations, which came to light after an outbreak of the highly contagious disease at Disneyland. They might be inclined to trust Paltrow, patron saint of wellness and vagina candles. If she throws Goop’s support behind COVID-19 vaccinations, she might be able to get this group on board. — Nicole Wetsman
Oprah Winfrey - The “wine moms” our pop culture mostly ignores are hugely important: they tend to be influential in their families and communities. Oprah has made an entire career out of cultivating these women — it’s part of the reason why she’s such an icon. You want everyone vaccinated? Have Oprah do it live, on television, as part of a special. The opportunities here are endless: you can bring on musical guests, who play a song or two and then also get vaccinated. You can have an interview with a major cultural icon who talks about how they have personally been affected by the pandemic (Tom Hanks, anyone?). And maybe, since Oprah is famous for her giveaways, there’s a segment where Oprah gives either an in-studio audience the vaccine or where she travels around the country vaccinating fans. It would be must-watch television — and if the adoption rates of the books and consumer products Oprah champions are any indication, we’ll have the vaccinations done in no time. — Liz Lopatto
Dolly Parton — Dolly is having a major 2020. She was introduced to a new audience of fans thanks to the Twins the New Trend review of her 1973 hit “Jolene,” and her $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University helped fund Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. She’s a longtime supporter of philanthropic causes: she’s raised money for wildfire relief, HIV-AIDS research, and a cancer hospital. President Obama recently admitted he screwed up by not giving Dolly a Medal of Freedom while he was in office. Despite her fame and business acumen, Dolly’s unpretentious, homey image and humble beginnings make her the perfect person to reassure people across many demographics about taking a vaccine; after all, Dolly’s already on board with it. — Kim Lyons
Taylor Swift — Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, Taylor Swift made an Instagram post urging her fans to vote for Tennessee Democratic candidates. At that time, the singer rarely discussed politics publicly and hadn’t waded into the 2016 election (it was the same summer as her Snapchat scandal). But she chose the right moment to break her silence: the post appeared to lead to a sharp rise in voter registrations among young people. As a celebrity with such a massive, young, and ardent following, you can probably only make so many public statements like this before your more apolitical fans start tuning it out. But Swift’s base still seems to be listening to her, and a vaccination over Instagram live could be what we need to send young people out in droves. She could even write a song about it! — Monica Chin
Kim Kardashian / the Kardashian family — Encourage people to keep up with the Kardashians by getting vaccinated. Then, everyone can go to Kim’s 41st birthday party on a private island! — Jay Peters
Desus and Mero — Hosts of late-night talk shows appeal to a large audience of America. Of the many entertainers of the genre, Desus and Mero are the most down-to-earth of the bunch. They know how to talk to an audience and they understand the internet and pop culture more than any other on television. Their strength in communicating would easily illustrate how relieved you should feel that a vaccine is here. — Andru Marino
Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Ron White, and Larry the Cable Guy — If this is going to be a televised event, a reunion is what drives numbers on TV today. The cast of Blue Collar Comedy Tour was marketed as four guys speaking from an everyday American perspective. They may appeal to a crowd that may be skeptical of a vaccine, and bringing lighthearted comedy into the situation can ease over some tensions. Also, they could reunite on Desus and Mero’s show. — Andru Marino
Late-night TV hosts — Whether you watch the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Lilly Singh, Jimmy Kimmel, or Conan O’Brien regularly — or at all — it’s tough to deny their influence in pop culture. Having each of them volunteer to get a vaccine during a show, perhaps looping in celebrity guests to also take part, would be a great way to boost trust in the vaccine, cast over public access TV channels that anyone can freely view in the US online or with an antenna. — Cameron Faulkner
Rob Lowe — Rob Lowe is one of our generation’s most lovable pop culture icons; and thanks to his ever presence on primetime television, we’ve all had dinner with him at one point or another. He is like a national comfort blanket. Plus, those in their 50s and 60s begin to be at a higher risk of COVID-19 and will need to get vaccinated early on in this process. Although seemingly ageless, Rob Lowe is actually 56 and a perfect example of how right things can go for someone if they take their health seriously. Plus, whose mom doesn’t love Rob Lowe? — Esther Cohen