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Elvis Presley In WSJ Recalled For Polio Vaccination, National Influencer

March 8, 2021

Among the newspaper stories today ranging from calls for New York Governor Mario Cuomo to resign, the vaccine rollout in Alaska, and destruction from a series of blasts in Equatorial Guinea there was something most unexpected on page A6 of The Wall Street Journal.

After briefly waiting in line, William Schaffner and his father joined six million people in greater New York who were vaccinated in just over three weeks, a logistical feat made possible by seamless cooperation between local and federal authorities.

This was in 1947.

Dr. Schaffner, now professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, says the high-speed vaccination campaign that ended an outbreak of smallpox was in many ways more successful than this year’s delay-ridden immunization campaign against Covid-19.

It wasn’t a one-off either. In 1954, Dr. Schaffner became one of the so-called Polio Pioneers who volunteered for the trial of a new vaccine that was then swiftly rolled out across the U.S., reaching tens of millions of people with the help of influencers such as Elvis Presley and without many of the challenges facing today’s campaign.

The fact that Elvis remains a touchstone to our lives and the events we are dealing with as a nation does allow us all to smile today. While there are serious and troubling headlines about Russian attempts to undermine the integrity of COVID vaccines there is that splash of a photo with the lifted pompadour and even without the sly grin (though we all see it in our mind) the assurance on his face of helping a nation by proving the polio vaccine was safe.

He was termed an influencer in 1956 for his efforts with getting a nation vaccinated. When I saw his face in one of the major national newspapers (!) and placed that photo in the context when it made headlines, and then given what we have experienced with fear and angst this past year, it is easy to understand how his vaccination allowed for some reassurance.

Being an Elvis fan I can add the shot was administered backstage at CBS Studio 50, before an October 1956 airing of The Ed Sullivan Show. It was after that vaccination he went before the audience and made music that still enthralls the world.

This all does make for a good way to start the week. Now let’s make sure we get the COVID vaccine and do our part in 2021 to combat this pandemic.

And as Elvis would say, “Thank you, thank you very much.”

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