Thursday, March 05, 2015

Shot At Life Summit: Advocating for Global Vaccines

Imagine half the kindergarteners in the US dying from diseases we could prevent. Horrendous. Catastrophic. Over 1.5 million deaths would be unimaginable. Yet this is about how many kids die every year around the world from measles, polio, pneumonia and diarrhea, disease we can largely prevent by vaccines and for very little money. Still, despite great efforts, 1 in 5 kids around the world do not have access to vaccines. 

That’s why I take time out to advocate, remembering the mothers on the other side of the world who walk miles, hours, entire days, if they can, to get their babies immunized. I don’t often use this space to advocate beyond better news and information for parents. But protecting a child from disease shouldn’t be a luxury or choice.

The Fourth SHOT@LIFE SUMMIT: The new champion class of 2015 plus some familiar faces and veterans.

This week I had the honor of attending the fourth annual Shot@Life Summit in Washington, D.C. I’ve been a champion for the global vaccine campaign since its launch by the United Nations Foundation over four years ago. As many of you know, the Shot@Life mission is to raise awareness and funding for access to life-saving childhood vaccines in the developing world. 

Four years ago there were just fifty of us, maybe including the small full-time staff, huddled in a conference room. Now I’m happy to report there are over 600 champions.  Over four years we've helped raise over 3.5 million dollars, resulting in 15.8 million vaccines to kids in desperate need. That’s progress. Still a lot of children are at risk. Really and truly at risk and not just the over-hyped too common risks we US parents read in every other headline. 

Shot@Life Dir. Devi Thomas, Paralympian Dennis Ogbee
So I found myself on Capitol Hill asking my New Jersey congressman and two Senators to support funding for global childhood immunizations. Trust me, four years ago I didn’t think I’d ever be sitting across from Representative Leonard Lance talking about measles and polio. Or for that matter, anything else! He and the others I met with expressed their support for funding global immunizations and their concern over disease outbreaks. Senator Cory Booker, though new in D.C. has shown commitment to the cause. Senator Robert Menendez has been a long-time champion of global health and vaccines. They appeared keenly aware of the importance of eradicating these diseases around the world. I was proud to be a New Jerseyan. Really. You can quote me on that. 

Whether you’re from Jersey, California, or somewhere in between, or for that matter, Canada, yes, we have a champion or two up north, you can join us. I’d be glad to help you sign up or give you the inside scoop. Maybe even hold your hand (or hold on to you) next year outside a senate office, especially if there's another ice storm like the other day. 

I can also report that the Shot@Life champions, they will embrace you too and we're a lively, committed and diverse bunch. Pediatricians, teachers, authors, bloggers, nurses, engineers, Democrats, Republicans, Indepdendents, mothers, fathers, pharmacy students, polio survivors, athletes, at least one Paralympian. A few celebrities. We got it all. Along the way you’ll meet some incredibly inspiring people. This week I finally got to meet Paralympian Dennis Ogbee, also a Shot@Life champion and natural born storyteller who told of his youth in Nigeria where polio had paralyzed him. He’s walking, flourishing, today through his own remarkable strength and determination. Truly a “man of steel, heart of gold.” 

Andrea Riley, Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), Jo Frost 
Oh and Jo Frost, The Supernanny, she's a champion now. The celebrity child minder and parenting expert also attended the Summit this week and visited a few congressional and senate offices to champion global vaccine funding. For our purposes here at MommaData, I was heartened to hear her call out misinformation in the media (over vaccines) in a casual but impassionate speech. I heard her say “accurate” several times too. At the time I didn't write any of it down as I was busily stuffing paella into my mouth, without either pen or light. 

Fortunately someone from the Washington Post  caught similar comments she made the next day and wrote them down. And yes, in the Post photo accompanying the article that is my friend Andrea Riley and her congressman from Nebraska “getting schooled by the Supernanny” the next day at a reception. I took the picture above so it's not nearly as gripping or professional. 

Join up or learn more at ShotatLife.org

4 comments:

Felisa Hilbert said...

Great post Polly, you are right it was an amazing summit and the advocacy and awareness was incredible.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Felisa, thanks. We need another rendezvous soon.

MelodyRN said...

It was a pleasure seeing you and as always great to work with you!

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Ditto, Melody! Looking forward to working together more often, we're practically neighbors.