This past October I attended Blogalicious Weekend 2011 in Washington, DC. While there I met Caroline Barrett, a program officer with Shot At Life, a new global initiative of the United Nations Foundation. Shot At Life is a movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed. As a mother and a global citizen, causes supporting global maternal and child health are near and dear to my heart. I know how important vaccines are as a foundation to a healthy childhood; my toddler son has just finished his crucial two-year sequence of vaccines.
I recently sat down with Peg Willingham, Executive Director for Shot At Life, to get her take on why this is such an important intiative and what moms can do to get involved:
How did Shot At Life come about?
The United Nations Foundation has had a long history of running successful global health campaigns. So much so that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation approached us to launch a grassroots advocacy initiative to support vaccination of children where they are most needed. We worked with a number of global partners to help develop the campaign. In our research, we realized that mothers of young children were an important audience because mothers typically make the healthcare decisions in the family. We came up with the name Shot@Life to educate people about prevention. By and large it’s not something most of us think about, but almost two million children are dying each year from preventable diseases.
Why are vaccines such an important health prevention tool?
Right now about 80% of children are covered world wide by vaccines. In the last few years there has been a realization that this is one of the most cost effective, medically effective interventions there is for health preservation. Especially during a time when budgets are tight, the small cost of a vaccine can make a huge differenence in a child’s life. You can protect not just a child but an entire community.
There are so many reasons vaccines are important. Really, they are a tool for social justice. Vaccines give children a level playing field. They are helpful for brain development and learning because some childhood diseases can cause brain damage. A vaccinated child gets a leg up educationally and when they do better in school, they will eventually contribute to their economy. What’s more if a family is displaced by disaster or war, these children are protected where ever they go.
What are the top five things someone can do to get involved?
Spread the word! Talk about Shot At Life Facebook, your blog or on Twitter. People can also host get togethers at home or host a baby shower or scrapbooking party where proceeds go to Shot At Life. Sign the pledge on line. You can also advocate by calling or writing to your member of congress and let him or her know you support funding life-saving vaccines for children. And of course, you can donate any amount. For just a few dollars you can protect a child for life against measles and other preventable diseases.
What role do you think mothers can play in spreading the word?
Mothers are important becauase women are online more. More women are on Facebook and Twitter than any other group.Women tend to be the ones who make the philanthropic decisions in families. And we get things done! Mothers can relate to mothers in emerging countries. We all want the same thing for our children. The point is, you can do something. It doesn’t have to be huge. Use your voice. You can find ways to get people engaged. Right an Op-ed, do a viral video, help us co-create this campaign. It’s about the creativity and passion of mothers (and all who want to contribute). We hope to ignite a movement that makes people want to help.
How are donations to Shot@Life used?
All donations are used for vaccine programs. We work with UNICEF and the World Health Organization to administer vaccines and, just as important, support vaccine education, training materials and social mobilization.
Peg speaks so eloquently about mission of this initiative that by the end of our chat, I just knew I had to get personally involved. With all of the controversy surrounding vaccines in the US and other western countries, it’s easy to forget that not so far back in our recent history, people regularly died from influenza, measles and polio. It’s unthinkable that children elsewhere are dying from these diseases which are so easily preventable with inexpensive vaccines.
I’m excited to share that I’ll be volunteering for Shot At Life and participating in their national launch in April, 2012. I’ll keep you updated with news about this movement and how you can help make sure that every child has an opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life, right from the start. I hope you’ll join me!