How 'Brady Bunch' Measles Episode Is Fueling Campaigns Against Vaccines : Shots - Health News One of TV's most famous families laughed off measles in the 1960s. The episode has resurfaced in battles over measles vaccinations today.
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'Brady Bunch' Episode Fuels Campaigns Against Vaccines — And Marcia's Miffed

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'Brady Bunch' Episode Fuels Campaigns Against Vaccines — And Marcia's Miffed

'Brady Bunch' Episode Fuels Campaigns Against Vaccines — And Marcia's Miffed

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are now nearly 700 cases of measles across the country. The crisis stems in large part from activists opposed to vaccines. And one of the items they are using to show that measles isn't as scary as experts say is an old "Brady Bunch" episode. As Gwynne Hogan from member station WNYC reports, at least one member of the "Brady Bunch" isn't happy about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BRADY BUNCH")

ROBERT REED: (As Mike) Are you sure it's the measles?

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: "The Brady Bunch" episode "Is There A Doctor In The House?" came out in 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BRADY BUNCH")

FLORENCE HENDERSON: (As Carol) Well, he's certainly got all the symptoms - a slight temperature, a lot of dots and a great, big smile.

REED: (As Mike) A great, big smile.

HENDERSON: (As Carol) No school for a few days.

HOGAN: All six Brady kids come down with the measles, stay home from school and play board games together.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BRADY BUNCH")

BARRY WILLIAMS: (As Greg) Boy, this is the life, isn't it?

MAUREEN MCCORMICK: (As Marcia) (Laughter) Yeah. If you have to get sick, sure can't beat the measles.

CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT: (As Peter) That's right.

EVE PLUMB: (As Jan) No medicine.

WILLIAMS: (As Greg) Inside or out - like shots, I mean.

PLUMB: (As Jan) Don't even mention shots. Yuck.

HOGAN: People who are critical of vaccines bring up the episode often, like Dr. Toni Bark, who testifies against vaccines in courts and public hearings across the country.

TONI BARK: You stayed home. Like "The Brady Bunch" show, you stayed home. You didn't go to the doctor.

HOGAN: The year that episode came out, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 25,000 measles cases and 41 deaths. Still, the vast majority of people who got sick with measles fully recovered. Elena Conis is an associate professor at University of California Berkeley, where she specializes in medical history.

ELENA CONIS: In 1969, we had less control over infectious diseases. Smallpox was still a reality. There were far more cases of polio. In that context, it made sense to think of measles as a lesser threat.

HOGAN: And include it in a sitcom - she says public health officials began to try to change the public consensus that measles was not such a big deal once there was an effective vaccine.

CONIS: They were saying, well, hold on. There's this rate of complications. There's this number of hospitalizations. There's this number of deaths. Like, we really need to shift our thinking about the threat that measles poses.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOGAN: That's evident in this 1964 PSA sponsored by the vaccine manufacturer Merck.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Many parents think of measles as just a common nuisance which makes their children feel miserable and keeps them out of school for a while. But physicians today know that measles is more than a nuisance.

HOGAN: The messaging worked. The number of measles cases and deaths decreased over the next two decades as the government dedicated funds for childhood immunization. By 1984, there was just one death related to measles - historically low at the time, a far cry from the around 500 deaths each year attributed to measles before the vaccine was introduced. So what do former cast members think about their show being used as evidence measles is not such a big deal? Actress Maureen McCormick played Marcia as a teen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BRADY BUNCH")

PLUMB: (As Jan) Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.

HOGAN: She says she found out a few months ago that an anti-vaccination Facebook group was circulating memes of her with the measles from that episode. She was furious.

MCCORMICK: I think it's really wrong when people use people's images today to promote whatever they want to promote. You know, as a mother, my daughter was vaccinated.

HOGAN: And she says she got the measles as a kid before the vaccine was introduced. It was nothing like "The Brady Bunch" episode. She got really sick. Lloyd J. Schwartz is the son of Sherwood Schwartz, "Brady Bunch" creator who passed away in 2011.

LLOYD J SCHWARTZ: Dad would be sorry because he believed in vaccination, had all of his kids vaccinated.

HOGAN: Everyone who caught the measles in "The Brady Bunch" was fine by the next episode. And most people who catch measles in 2019 will be fine too once they recover. But that's not always the case. The virus can cause pneumonia - in severe cases, brain swelling and deafness.

For NPR News, I'm Gwynne Hogan in New York.

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