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A Polar Bear Might Keep The Measles Away, But Shots Work Better

The heroines of a best-selling book series have been enlisted in the global effort to eradicate measles.
Sophie Blackall
The heroines of a best-selling book series have been enlisted in the global effort to eradicate measles.

In the bestselling Ivy and Bean books, 7-year-old Bean puts a lot of energy into avoiding chores and reading. So when her friend Ivy brings up measles shots, Bean is ready with alternatives:

  • Wear a hazmat suit for the rest of your life.
  • Make an anti-measles force field with 24 hula hoops.
  • Cover yourself in a 6-inch protective layer of lard.
  • The inventive duo will soon be appearing on posters in pediatricians' offices as part of an effort by the American Academy of Pediatrics and international public health organizations to get children vaccinated.

    Measles cases spiked in the United States this year, with 594 cases and 18 outbreaks, the highest number since 2000. They were caused by people traveling to the U.S. and infecting people who hadn't had measles shots.

    / Sophie Blackall
    Sophie Blackall

    Measles worries public health officials. It's much more contagious than Ebola virus and kills about 120,000 people each year worldwide.

    Sophie Blackall, the illustrator for the Ivy and Bean books, has traveled to Congo and India to design posters for the Measles and Rubella Initiative, a consortium that includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, The UN Foundation and UNICEF. So she was a natural for this new domestic effort.

    "I've long wanted to join these two worlds, the work I've done for measles and my main life, which is in the children's book world," Blackall, an Australian who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., told Shots. So she asked her publisher, Chronicle Books, if Ivy and Bean could enlist. She got an enthusiastic yes.

    "Bean is thinking of every possible way of avoiding a shot; who wants a needle?" Blackall says. "Surely there are ways to avoid it."

    Bean's notions would indeed protect against the measles but would be difficult to sustain, whether they involve moving to the moon or being adopted by a polar bear.

    In the end, the girls agree that getting a measles shot would be a simpler, easier form of protection. "And sometimes you get a lollipop," Blackall says. "So it's a win-win."

    Of course, children usually don't have a lot of say over whether they're getting shots. "We wanted to give doctors something that would speak to the kids, something funny and eye-catching that they can put up in the waiting room and that families can discuss," Blackall says. "It sometimes gets lost in the whole noise about children's health, but it's so important."

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    / Sophie Blackall
    Sophie Blackall

    Nancy Shute