Movie Club: World War Z

alt: A TV screen shows Brad Pitt in front of a large group of zombies, and 3 doodles watch from a couch. One covers their eyes and yells, “Not the face!”

Here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we can get into zombies. There’s nothing like a horde of undead to spice up a chase scene — and they can even help us write more clearly! But did you know that zombie preparedness is now an accepted part of the health communication toolbox? That’s because if you’re talking about zombies instead of SARS or H1N1, people are more likely to perk up and learn something.

One zombie flick that really packs in the public health messaging is 2013’s World War Z. The heroes of this Hollywood blockbuster may be better looking than the average epidemiologist (ahem, Brad Pitt), but still — they’re public health professionals who collaborate across sectors and really save the day.

For starters, when zombies rudely interrupt Brad’s pleasant family outing, he gathers data (symptoms, incubation period, transmission vectors) to share with his buddies at the United Nations. Whether you’re faced with a nasty flu or a plague of corpses, sharing info helps you reach a solution faster.

Then, when the military runs out of options and all hope seems lost, what does our hero do? Why, he crash-lands a passenger jet full of zombies next door to a WHO facility, of course! Brad knows that in a pandemic, you want to talk to the people wearing lab coats — not flak jackets.

Here are a few more public health lessons from World War Z:

  • Keep life-saving medicines with you at all times. A zombie apocalypse is no time to be without your asthma inhaler, but that’s the sticky situation Brad’s young daughter finds herself in. The family’s frantic hunt for albuterol in an overrun pharmacy serves as a reminder to check your supply of EpiPens, insulin, and any medicine that keeps you among the living.
  • Be proactive. While most countries in the film brush off early reports of zombies as nonsense, Israel gets to work reaching out, gathering data, and preparing for the worst. In zombie movies, as in real life, it’s best not to wait around for Brad Pitt to tell you there’s a problem.
  • Don’t build walls — build public health infrastructure. At first, Israel’s wall-building isolation strategy seems like a safe bet. But at some point, the zombies are coming over the wall. So ditch the flimsy fences and build the infrastructure that really guards against disease: strong public health organizations.
  • Trust vaccines to shield you from diseases… and, you know, zombies. Brad’s final showdown with the zombies doesn’t involve weapons or gore. Instead, he shields himself with a vaccine — the only protection that can truly save us in a pandemic.

The bottom line: Watch World War Z to learn emergency preparedness (zombie-related and otherwise) and see why public health infrastructure is a real lifesaver.

Tweet about it: Why are zombie movies great for public health? @CommunicateHlth talks World War Z: #HealthLit


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