What’s scarier than an unseen monster? How about whooping cough? In director Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, Sandra Bullock plays a gritty survivalist whose goal is to protect her children from chaos-creating creatures. In this world, blindfolds are one of the best ways to protect oneself — simply looking at one of the creatures causes a person to lose their mind. But while that repercussion is horrific in itself, on Saturday the U.S. Surgeon General pointed out that other maladies would likely take root if this scenario ever happened in real life.
Some spoilers below for Netflix’s Bird Box.
Sight is your downfall in the world of Bird Box. Bullock, who plays the protagonist Malorie, slowly realizes that catching sight of one of the creatures — who the audience never gets to see — either makes humans commit willful suicide or turns them into zombie-like servants whose goal is to get other humans to see the creatures. Malorie, who is pregnant, waits out the first half of the movie in a house shared with other survivors, eating dwindling food rations and covering up windows.
While looking at the creatures is the movie’s centerpiece trauma, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H., had some fun on Twitter pointing out that just because the world is ending, it doesn’t mean that everyday ailments are going to go away.
While the benefits of the flu vaccine are well known — getting vaccinated protects you and the people around you from serious illness — readers might be less acquainted with Adam’s Tdap vaccine recommendation. Tdap stands for the diseases the vaccine protects against: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Tetanus, while rare, can cause painful muscle tightening around the body; diphtheria causes a dangerous, thick coating to form in the back of the throat; and pertussis, or whooping cough, can cause breathing problems and vomiting.
These diseases are very serious — but the Tdap vaccine is routinely given to kids when they are between the ages of 11 and 12, so infections are rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that pregnant women get a dose of Tdap during every pregnancy in order to protect newborn babies from whooping cough — infants are the most at risk for the complications that accompany it.
That’s where Bird Box comes in: Malorie and another survivor named Olympia are both pregnant in an apocalyptic world. It’s unlikely that they or the people around them have received their Tdap to protect the newborns — doctors recommend that anyone having contact with a baby younger than 12 months should get a Tdap booster.
Looking at the creatures of Bird Box would ignite a horrific ordeal — but as Adams points out, that won’t matter much if you’re taken out by the diseases real-life people are already fighting against.