Doing the rounds again is this meme regarding Elvis:

Recently, someone asked the question: “Who is the one individual that has helped save the most money in the US healthcare industry in the last century?” The answer – surprisingly – is Elvis Presley. On October 28, 1956, Elvis got a polio vaccination on national TV. That single event was responsible for raising immunization levels in the US from 0.6% to over 80% in just 6 months. No other single individual has had that kind of impact on healthcare in the US.

I have seen it in a couple of places but either associated with marketing as in this case, or on Facebook or other less reputable sites.

This quote also has a lack of information about the savings from the immunisation levels, so my question is the same as in the title. Has Elvis saved the industry the most money?

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    Saving money is a hard question to answer. For example, acts that increase lifespans may or may not save healthcare money.
    – gerrit
    Sep 8, 2015 at 12:58
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    Estimating the cost savings from polio vaccination seems difficult, but perhaps not impossible. The problematic part of this claim is the causality between Elvis and overall vaccination rates - since it only happened once and there is no control, I don't see how one could possibly establish that. Sep 8, 2015 at 13:13
  • Agreed. While he no doubt had an effect, the two tricky bits are working out what he was responsible for, and the monetary value of that.
    – Rory Alsop
    Sep 8, 2015 at 13:44
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    I'm also assuming that if he did that on TV is probably because some campaign to promote vaccination was going on at the same time. How would you differentiate the effect of Elvis doing it from the effect of, say, leaflets given by GPs?
    – nico
    Sep 8, 2015 at 16:32

1 Answer 1


Per Philip J Smith in 2011, U.S. Immunization Survey (USIS) has been partly the reason for the success of immunization in USA. This should mean that the single event responsible for raising immunization levels in the US from 0.6% to over 80% in just 6 months cannot only be Elvis Presley. Also, an estimated six million children were reported to have been vaccinated by July 1955 and per national participation trends by Monroe G. Sirken in 1962, the approximate numbers of US vaccination and percentage can be seen in page 664. The numbers show that participation levels declines with advancing age when seen by broad age groups. Priority groups with preference to children were established since the vaccine was frequently in short supply.

Our national vaccine recommendations in the U.S. target an increasing number of vaccine-preventable diseases for reduction, elimination, or eradication. Achievement of this success has been due in part to the assessment of vaccination coverage which is an essential component in evaluating vaccine effectiveness, examining the relationship between increased coverage and population disease burden, monitoring vaccine safety, and studying public perceptions about vaccines.

From 1955 to 1961, the estimated percentage of the U.S. civilian population that had received ≥3 doses of poliomyelitis vaccine reached 53.6% and the number of annual poliomyelitis cases (all types) declined from 28,985 to 1,327 nationally

From 1986 to 1991, when there was a break in vaccination coverage assessment activities conducted by the U.S. government there was a resurgence in the number of measles, mumps, and rubella cases in the U.S during that time. Research revealed that cases observed during the measles resurgence were disproportionately inner-city, preschool-aged, American Indian, Hispanic, or black children <5 years of age who had not been vaccinated and who were living in poverty.

In response to this resurgence, the Childhood Immunization Initiative was developed in 1993 to eliminate significant gaps in vaccination coverage among young children in the U.S. In 1991, CDC recommenced assessment of national vaccination coverage in the U.S. using the NHIS.

Data from the 1992 NHIS provided estimates for the first published reports of national vaccination coverage that followed the measles, mumps, and rubella resurgence.

In 1994, CDC launched The National Immunization Survey (NIS), which has since been conducted annually to date and the number of cases of most vaccine-preventable diseases is at an all-time low, and hospitalizations and deaths from these diseases have also shown striking decreases.

Per Irwin M. Rosenstock in 1959 on why people fail to seek poliomyelitis vaccination, "there are several factors such as social and situational factors along with socioeconomic status for acceptance of poliomyelitis vaccination. When lower educational and higher educational groups are exposed to the same medium of movies and radio, they may attend to or learn different things from the same material." This could mean that views of the US population on vaccination differed based on their education and socioeconomic status when exposed to movie stars.

  • @Nomenagentis-Your edit is fine to the context I was referring to.... Sep 8, 2015 at 17:48
  • This paper claims that the survey was partly responsible. But does it actually provide evidence supporting a causal relationship? Sep 9, 2015 at 0:30
  • @NateEldredge-" "From 1986 to 1991, no national data were systematically collected on preschool immunization coverage in the United States. Studies found that lower measles immunization rates in preschool children were associated with an increased incidence of measles in this age group during the 1980s. In response to the measles resurgence of 1989–1991, CDC's Immunization Division recommended from 1990 to 1994 that all states conduct retrospective school surveys" quote from this paper-epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/1/27.full Sep 9, 2015 at 4:03

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