Superheroes urging children to be vaccinated face backlash from parents

Toronto’s public health service has asked local superheros to go from stage to stage at schools to make the case for the vaccination of 1.5 million young children.

The initiative, dubbed the Get Your Kids Vaxed! Tour, is an attempt to boost vaccine uptake against the so-called “comic book-style” virus that can cause brain damage in infants and is linked to autism.

The eight-month-old disease, caused by a virus that is on the rise in the US and Mexico, often appears as a mild fever, as many people are unaware of its potentially devastating effects.

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Jars of Gelinzinc, the drug that protects against the virus, are already available for parents who might not wish to vaccinate their children. Yet a high-profile boycott of the disease in schools in Norway prompted a domino effect across the region and around the world.

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A vaccine for COVID-19 became available in Norway last year, but uptake has been much lower than government officials hoped for. They want to reverse that, in part, by enlisting the skills of DC Comics’s New 52 and Marvel’s Avengers – who are not afraid to flex their powers.

According to the Huffington Post, DC sent a character to Toronto’s Scarborough public school district on Friday, while Marvel is due to arrive in November.

The initiative has already helped in two Ontario schools, although the New Orleans health department also sent its Superhero Kid Squad in order to persuade children to get vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.

“With the Get Your Kids Vaxed! Tour, we’re working hard to engage with families about why it’s important to vaccinate their kids and we’re using our superhero power to highlight the benefits of getting vaccines,” Simon Schaefer, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, said in a statement.

A mother arriving at her child’s school in Toronto to advocate for vaccinations. Photograph: Aaron Harris/Getty Images

“The only way that we’re going to have a vaccine when we really need it is if we make it fun.”

The project has come under fire from some who feel vaccines do not cure illnesses such as polio or chickenpox. There is a small but vocal group of parents who opt to have their children exempt from the “personal belief” vaccines, which cover diseases such as measles and mumps.

As can be seen in the film Sister Act, the action heroes have to ride a bus to gain trust from busy parents, who can be fearful of the flu jab or the swine flu vaccine for their children.

Fiona Woolcock, a research fellow at University College London who has produced a number of public health videos, including “I may be a superhero, but my boobs aren’t dead”, said: “A superhero can be a lot of things, but it can’t be an authority figure who is unapproachable and hasn’t got [the right] stats.

“The police just talk down to people and the ambulance people are really unapproachable. It is incumbent upon a superhero to do things differently. We’re hoping a superhero will not only help with numbers but also dispel myths.”

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