If I can’t convince you to vaccinate, perhaps I can convince you to advocate

by julie on February 17, 2013

{Edited to add: Part of my self-righteous frustration with those who refuse vaccines (for reasons other than immunocompromised or historically sensitive status, as discussed below) is intensely personal. My husband was one of those kids who benefited from herd immunity, because his parents opted not to vaccinate him for religious reasons. As a scientifically literate adult, he recognizes how fortunate he was that other parents chose to vaccinate, and he is all the more committed to fully immunizing our own kids.}

I love how uplifting and hopeful my fellow Shot@Life advocates’ posts have been during this 28 Days of Impact. My post, however, will probably be more disappointed and angry.

Soon after returning from Uganda, where I had the honor of joining Ugandan families at their religious services and learning about their personal and public health concerns, I did a little digging regarding vaccination rates in my state. I was dismayed to find that Colorado ranks second in the nation for vaccine refusals.

Regardless of the margin of error in cited rates, the fact remains that the state with the lowest obesity rate in the nation isn’t so superlative where it comes to public health. It’s disappointing to me, and it doesn’t make sense.

All infants and children are more susceptible to illness than adults, but some infants and children are put in grave danger by others’ careless refusals because they are immunocompromised. Some may be fighting chronic illnesses, such as cancer, and are unable to receive vaccinations. Some have a family history of sensitivity or adverse reactions, which may require a delayed schedule. By vaccinating our own healthy infants and children, we are helping protect those who are immunocompromised.

Unsubstantiated refusals deny children direct protection and chip away at the herd immunity that protects all of us. I have no patience for that. Not after meeting Florence.

I wrote about Florence last fall, and her story has stayed with me. I’ve told so many people about her, how she walked with her two young children and two week old baby to church that Sunday, so that she could ensure her kids received health care services.

florence kabajuni - fort portal, uganda

A two week old baby. When my babies were two weeks old, I hardly felt like climbing the stairs.

I’ve talked about Florence so much that my kids recognize her. “Oh, she’s the model mother, right Mom?”

We blather on about family values and personal responsibility, and here is a woman on the other side of the world, living that rhetoric we so casually spout. Florence walks kilometers on dirt roads to ensure her kids are protected, and yet we opt out of immunizations with less thought than we put into changing cell phone carriers.

Perhaps neither the gentle encouragement of my fellow advocates, nor my incredulous frustration, will convince parents to avail themselves and their children of immunizations that are readily available here in the United States. As it stands, our herd immunity does afford most of us adequate protection.

However, that’s simply not the case in countries like Uganda. Herd immunity — that fragile phenomena brought about by widespread vaccination — is not yet fully established in developing nations, making vaccinations even more important there than they are here. Shot@Life partners such as GAVI, UNICEF, WHO, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ensure that funding for vaccines is used effectively and efficiently, including vaccine storage, distribution, and administration. It’s a big job, but it’s worthwhile. And it’s so much more cost effective to prevent disease than it is to treat it.

Parents who vaccinate, parents who don’t: Please help ensure that developing countries can continue building that herd immunity which too many of us take for granted.

The impact of vaccines on the lives of children around the world is incredible. Now, you can help sustain the impact by sending an email to your member of Congress. Welcome your members to the 113th Congress and ask them to make sure that global health and vaccines are a priority in the new Congress. Take action and make an impact!

Florence’s story comes from the Fort Portal area of Uganda and is part of Shot@Life’s ’28 Days of Impact’ Campaign — a follow up to Blogust to raise awareness for global vaccines and the work being done by Shot@Life and their partners to help give children around the world a shot at a healthy life. Each day in February, you can read another impactful story on global childhood vaccines. Tomorrow, don’t miss Tracey Clark’s post! (Gah, I love Tracey. Mwah!) Go to www.shotatlife.org/impact to learn more.

Elena February 17, 2013 at 6:54 am

You are so right Julie about this being a matter of access for women and children who otherwise would have none. Stories like Florence’s remind us that this is about so much more, these vaccinations are helping families live, and dream. Thank you for sharing Florence with us!

IlinaP February 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

Spot on, Julie! The domestic paradigm and global health paradigm are so different. The context of what is happening in places like Uganda is unfathomable to parents here who benefit from herd immunity. Florence’s story has stuck with me too, and I am highlighting her in my Ignite talk this week about Uganda and Shot@Life.

Cindy L February 17, 2013 at 10:32 am

Great Julie. It’s all about choice. Even if individual Americans choose not to vaccinate their own kids, we shouldn’t take away the choices of mothers who see children dying around them from measles, rotavirus, pneumonia and polio and are desperate for a way to save their babies.

GCarroll February 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I so get and align myself with your outrage, Julie. We here in the US have the luxury to refuse vaccines because of the responsible folks around us who safeguard their own children, and therefore, the unimmunized, too. I know that life is unfair. But that’s just selfish!
Love Florence’s story! She IS a model mother!

jyl @momitforward February 18, 2013 at 7:25 am

I love this post. For those in developing nations, it really is all about even having the option to immunize. It means life or death for their children. It’s nice that we can have some influence over whether that happens simply by encouraging our members of congress to support global aid and to donate to organizations that provide help.

Previous post:

Next post: