Wellcome Film of the Month: Cat’s got the measles and the measles have got YOU!
“Cat’s got the Measles and the Measles have got YOU!
This playground rhyme features in our film of the month,Protect your child against measles 1980, a Health Education Authority film aimed at mothers. We should also bear in mind that World Immunization Week is in April (19-26) and there is currently a measles outbreak in the UK with one known death.
This film is one of a series that formed part of a government-sponsored campaign to promote take-up of immunisation against polio, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough in the UK. A companion film, Immunisation, a Lifetime of Protection, 1980, is also in the collection. There’s no escaping the fact that young children are the ones who are the most vulnerable to measles; a fact capitalised in this film with ample illustrations of poorly children who have measles with differing levels of severity. We see a little boy and the narrator says that by this age (2 years old) children should have been vaccinated against measles. Both films reveal the difficulty of persuading parents to get their children immunised; in one there are vox pops of spokespeople (mostly mothers) communicating their confusion about whether to take their children to be immunised or not. With this level of uncertainty, it’s not surprising that within Europe, measles is still endemic. In the film, it is the young schoolchildren themselves who talk most vividly about their experiences of measles whilst painting pictures of measles-effected children – in their own words it is a horrible illness.
Immunisation is a great success story for medicine in the 20th century. However, public health officers have historically struggled with take-up to create the necessary herd immunity. Looking at a range of films on this topic (see examples in the filmography below), public health experts appear to believe that this is down to communication. An example made by the Medical Health departments of Bermondsey and Camberwell in London, The empty bed from 1937, illustrates the devastating effect of contracting diphtheria – a child dies and the audience is invited to compare non-immunisation with having a loaded gun pointed at you. The war years saw the British Government ramp up its efforts to get the population vaccinated against smallpox and diphtheria (so as not to deflect medical resources away from the war effort). Post-war, the march of scientific discovery especially in virology in the US meant that two important vaccines for polio (developed by first Jonas Salk, then Albert Sabin) effectively eradicated polio from the post-war baby boom generation. John Franklin Enders, a key scientist in the development of the poliovirus became a Nobel Laureate for this work (which was used by Salk); he then worked on identifying the measles virus. Another prolific American scientist, Maurice Hilleman, is attributed with developing 36 vaccines including a measles vaccine. By the early 1980s, the immunised children of the post-war era have become parents; they are the ones targeted in the films mentioned above.
Up to date information about Measles immunisation as part of the MMR or combined vaccine is available from NHS Choices.
Filmography of Immunisation:
- MMR: What parents want to know. UK: NHS, 2001. A government sponsored film aimed at parents addressing concerns about the MMR vaccine scare generated by the media in 2001 (with sign language and subtitles). Material courtesy of the BFI National Archive.
- Meningitis health authority education. UK, 1999. A government sponsored film about a new immunisation programme to vaccinate everyone under 18 years old against meningitis C. Material courtesy of the BFI National Archive.
- Whooping cough: health visitor. UK: Health Education Council, 1986. A public service advertisement by the government telling parents to ‘talk to your doctor or health visitor about immunisation’ against whooping cough. Material courtesy of the BFI National Archive.
- Immunity and immunopathology. London: University of London Audio-Visual Centre, 1974. A videoed lecture by Dr A C Allison suitable for post-graduates on the subject of how the immune system works to fight against infectious disease. He differentiates between innate immunity and acquired immunity.
- Exit polio. England, 1961. A film produced by Pfizer Ltd. The film looks at the production and testing of oral polio vaccine and how it differs from the injectable form – includes valuable footage of laboratory work on vaccines and children taking the oral form on a sugar lump.
- Sugar lump vaccine. England: Peter Dearden Ltd. and Star Sound, 1961. This film shows the events of the first mass vaccination campaign in Western Europe using oral poliomyelitis vaccine.
- Fundamental principles of immunization. England: Wellcome Foundation Film Unit, 1961. This film presents the basic principles underlying active, passive and transferred immunity in man and animals, and explains the production of various types of vaccines and antisera.
- The story of the Wellcome Foundation Ltd. London: Wellcome Foundation Film Unit, 1955. A short sequence about Wellcome’s commitment to research (00:11:54:18) relating to research into acquired immunity/vaccination.
- Surprise attack. UK: Ministry of Health, 1951. A small girl (unvaccinated) is infected with smallpox; recovers, but is marked for life. Material courtesy of the BFI National Archive.
- The preparation of diphtheria antitoxin and prophylactics. London: G.B. Instructional Ltd., 1945. This film shows the stages in the process and testing of diphtheria antitoxin as it happened in 1945.
- Defeat diphtheria. UK: Ministry of Health, 1941. This film explains the nature of diphtheria, tells how the anti-toxin was discovered and shows parents the part they must play in protecting their children. Material courtesy of the BFI National Archive.
- Diphtheria. United States: Eastman Classroom Films, 1941. A film from the US showing the outstanding features of the campaign against diphtheria.
- Diphtheria: Immunisation shorts. UK: Central Office of Information, 194? Public information film about diphtheria immunisation.; boy dies because he was not immunised. Material courtesy of the BFI National Archive.
- The empty bed. London: Bermondsey & Camberwell Borough Councils, 1937 This film is about the consequences of not immunising your children against diphtheria.
You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original files, which are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.