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Canada’s iconic city of Toronto is a proud proponent of many things. For example, its evocative lighting of the CN Tower, its sport of sumo wrestling and its flags at every turn.
Now the city is highlighting another proud Canadian creation by invoking its key messages to show its passionate commitment to vaccinating children.
The campaign by Toronto Public Health aims to reach 1 million parents of children in its jurisdiction who have not been vaccinated. It comes on the 40th anniversary of Canada’s landmark law requiring children to be vaccinated for the disease whooping cough.
The project showcases Toronto’s “dynamic city” and “visual history” of the city, inspired by Toronto’s first official poster. This might be why the response to the campaign has been heartening.
Vice Canada talked with Toronto Public Health Minister Dr. Heather Tupper who said the idea for the campaign evolved out of the city’s founding of February 26 as Pioneer’s Day. In 2006, Toronto Public Health celebrated Canada’s birthday on what’s now called Canada Day. The “You Were Here” campaign invited children to write about how they felt being born in Toronto.
The series was published in newspapers and “on as many as 200 posters,” Tupper says. More than 5,000 children wrote. But there was one letter that wasn’t relevant to their age.
For 18-month-old Lyla Lishe (she’s 4 today) it’s a good story about her grandfather – a “tireless crusader against polio”.
During World War II, his arms were so affected by polio he could only work at his import-export company. Lyla’s grandpa never complained and spoke “strongly” about the importance of childhood vaccinations. The great-grandfather shared his story on his birthday.
“It struck me as an inspired way to make an important and timely public health campaign,” Tupper says.
Toronto, it seems, shares Lyla’s grandson’s perseverance. Today’s ad shows a cast of children recalling what they learned from the grandfather they never knew.
However, the campaign has encountered some criticism. Some parents of children born in 1955, when the advertisements were shown to the public, have said they are upset the ad suggests their grandparents were influenced to the point of being sick by polio.
“It is important to remember that the ad is only concerned with the children who were born in or adopted after 1955,” Tupper says. “There is no mention of the parents of any other children, including the parents of the ad-child.”
It’s important to remember that the ad is only concerned with the children who were born in or adopted after 1955
Toronto Public Health says this is why they ran the ad to 30,000 persons in last year’s “individual-to-person vaccination campaign”.
So what do Toronto parents say?
“It’s so important that we have three places in our society – school, work and public space – where we can learn about disease prevention and help make the world safer,” says Abigail Belardere, a blogger.
Further criticism has questioned the acceptability of such advertising from a public health body.
“Frankly this is the poster our great grandfather would have loved because it encourages people to keep getting vaccinated,” Belardere adds.
Toronto Public Health has set up a Facebook page and an online campaign to engage more parents with information about the polio vaccine. The campaign includes a site that doesn’t offer the ad itself but instead explains the difficulty and expense of maintaining a reservoir of polio infection.
Also, there is a direct link to Don Oliver, the new CEO of Toronto Public Health.
“We use the ad as part of a larger engagement strategy. At this moment, we are working to get more people into our immunization clinics,” Tupper says.
Toronto’s creative campaign for its open, modern and iconoclastic city is no less a testimony to it.
But if the city of Toronto shows it’s passionate about vaccinating its children, perhaps you can feel contagious.