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Giving Every Child a Shot at Life

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Shot@Life Champion Summit, a gathering of vaccine advocates from across the country who come together each year to learn about the crucial role the U.S. plays in supporting global immunizations. Advocates also learn the powerful impact of advocacy through trainings and meetings with Congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

Shot@Life, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, aims to ensure that children around the world have access to life-saving vaccines. The campaign works to build a group of Champions (advocates), who will dedicate their voices, time, and support to standing up for childhood in developing countries.

At the Summit, I heard from several Champions who are experts in the areas of vaccines, global health, and international development. The most powerful speaker for me was Geeta Rao Gupta, a senior fellow at the UN Foundation who has worked to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. She focused on the value of vaccines for women, and not just in the obvious ways, like preventing cervical cancer. “When we talk about the statistics of infant mortality, we rarely talk about grief,” she said. She shared the heartbreaking story of her great-grandmother, who died of tuberculosis in her early thirties after losing five of eleven children in their infancies. I don’t think many of us living in Washington today can imagine how painful these losses must have been for her. And while it can be easy, in our day-to-day work, to focus on the numbers and rates, it’s a powerful reminder of why those numbers and rates matter. Dr. Gupta reminded us that vaccines don’t just “save lives” – they prevent grief, and allow mothers to focus their energies on caring for healthy children.

Dr. Gupta emphasized how fortunate we are to live during the age that we do, with advancements in vaccines and general health. However, developing countries are still in need of these valuable resources. And where vaccines could prevent an estimated 2.5 million deaths among children younger than age 5 around the globe, 1 child still dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine. Therefore, the U.S. strives to provide access and education around vaccines through a variety of ways. Did you know the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is key in leading worldwide efforts to eradicate polio and measles? Or that USAID is a key partner of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which creates immunization access for the world’s poorest countries, immunizing half a billion children? Even the U.S.’s contribution to UNICEF helps save lives, as they deliver vaccines to 45% of the world’s children. The U.S. is a leader in providing vaccine assistance globally, as well as here at home by providing funding to various organizations working at the community level.

Being a local organization that promotes immunizations, our work at WithinReach is also part of a global community. We’re reminded of that every year, as American travelers bring back vaccine-preventable diseases from across the globe. “Disease anywhere is disease everywhere” with our interconnected world and the ease of travel. Diseases that have been long rare at home are still prevalent in many other areas of the world. That is why it is important that we advocate and create awareness around vaccine-preventable diseases through our community members, our partners and state leaders. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help every child have a shot at life, check out shotatlife.org.

Tags: childhood immunizations   Community Health   global health   immunizations   Shot@Life   vaccines   Washington state   WithinReach   

Expanding the frame: global-local vaccine links

Outside of WithinReach, I am also a faculty member at the University of Washington, where I will be teaching Global Health 101 this fall. In preparing to teach this course for the first time, I have been re-grounding myself in the interventions that have created—or have the potential to create—enduring health on a global scale. From clean water and sanitation to the education of women and unrestricted access to family planning resources, global health successes stem from making basic services accessible to all free of charge. Vaccines are integral to this story. Even I, as a person who spends his days focused on promoting immunization, sometimes forget how powerfully vaccines have altered the course of human history.
The American surge in health associated with vaccines began more than sixty years ago, and thus isn’t as noticeable today, but we too have witnessed remarkable advances in health thanks to vaccines—results that are yet to be fully translated across the globe.

Here are some broad statistics that make the case for vaccines:

  • Vaccines save 3 million lives and $42 billion globally per year (3)
  • 1.5 million children die annually globally from vaccine preventable diseases (2)
  • Smallpox claimed between 300 and 500 million lives before it was eliminated thanks to a vaccine (2)
  • The World Health Organization has said that “the two public health interventions that have had the greatest impact on the world’s health are clean water and vaccines.” (4)
Washington State takes exceptional leadership when it comes to vaccines. Founded largely with funding from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) has spent over $4.5 billion to immunize nearly five hundred million children, “raising the immunization rate among children in low-income countries to 79 percent—an all-time high” (1). This effort alone has saved 5 million lives since 2000, so we’re definitely trending in the right direction. Considering the resource and infrastructure limitations in many parts of the world, that 79% of children in low-income countries are immunized speaks to the value of vaccines from the perspective of governments. Coordinating vaccination, especially supply lines, handling, storage, and, of course, delivery is a challenging task, but one the global community has committed to addressing because vaccines have such transformative power. Washington should be proud of our contributions to vaccines globally, but we must also refocus locally.
Just because we in the United States are removed (mostly) from the days of mass illness and death associated with infectious disease does not mean we should let down our guard; rather, histories like these should compel us to keep focused on saving lives through this safe and cost-effective means of promoting health—at home and abroad.
Citations:
(1) Farmer, P. et al. (2013). Reimaging Global Health: An Introduction. Berkeley, University of California Press: 306.
(2) History of Vaccines: http://www.historyofvaccines.org/
(3) The Immunization Action Coalition’s Timeline page: http://www.immunize.org/timeline/
(4) The World Health Organization’s Vaccines page: http://www.who.int/topics/vaccines/en/

Tags: GAVI   global health   health promotion   immunizations   preventable diseases   vaccines   VaxNorthwest   Washington state   

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