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.
Expanding the frame: global-local vaccine links
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)
(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/