Elvis Presley Received a Polio Vaccination on Live TV — Here's Why Public Vaccinations Matter

After the singer received the polio vaccine on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, many young people chose to get immunized

Elvis Presley receiving a polio vaccination from Dr. Leona Baumgartner and Dr. Harold Fuerst
Photo: Seymour Wally/NY Daily News Archive via Getty

Elvis Presley gave Americans a gift beyond his rock and roll music in 1956.

During a period when polio plagued the country, he received a polio vaccine on live TV on The Ed Sullivan Show. While most children were getting vaccinated at that time, many teens and young adults didn't think they were at risk from polio and were reluctant to get the vaccine.

Presley's decision to publicly get the vaccine — particularly as a young, healthy celebrity — may have provided a major push for teens and young adults to get vaccinated themselves, CNN reported. It may have been a catalyst in getting younger adults to understand the importance of the shot.

This likely helped slow the highly contagious disease, which was eventually eradicated after Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine in 1955. By 1962, the average number of polio cases dropped significantly; the United States has been polio-free since 1979, according to the CDC.

This power of of celebrity influence and endorsement has led three former presidents, as well as President-elect Joe Biden, to say that they, too, will publicly receive the coronavirus vaccine when available.

Like Presley, former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have all volunteered to get their vaccines publicly as a way to emphasize its safety and efficacy.

<a href="https://people.com/tag/barack-obama" data-inlink="true">Barack Obama</a>; Bill Clinton; George W. Bush
From left: former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Theo Wargo/WireImage; Myrna M. Suarez/Getty Images; Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

On Thursday, Biden, 78, also said in a CNN interview that he would "be happy" to join his predecessors in publicly getting the vaccine.

"People like Anthony Fauci, who I know and I’ve worked with, I trust completely," Obama, 59, said in an interview with SiriusXM host Joe Madison. "So, if Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe, and can vaccinate, you know, immunize you from getting COVID, absolutely, I'm going to take it."

"I promise you that when it’s been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it," the 44th president added, noting that the vaccine will likely first become available for high-risk communities. "I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science, and what I don't trust is getting COVID."

Meanwhile, Bush's chief of staff, Freddy Ford, told CNN that the 43rd president, 74, also plans to promote the vaccine. "First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations. Then, President Bush will get in line for his, and will gladly do so on camera," Ford said.

And according to Clinton's press secretary, the 42nd president, 74, plans to join Bush and Obama in publicly endorsing the vaccine once it becomes available.

"President Clinton will definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials. And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same," Angel Ureña, said in a statement to PEOPLE.

Earlier this week, Fauci said that the majority of Americans who wish to get vaccinated for COVID-19 should be able to do so by April or May of next year.

As of Friday afternoon, there have been more than 14.2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and at least 276,375 people have died, according to a New York Times database.

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