Imagine you are a parent watching your child burning with fever or suffering from diarrhea and knowing there is nothing you can do to help her. You may have never heard of rotavirus, polio, or measles but you know these diseases make your child sick. Very sick. You know because you’ve lost a child before as have many families in your village.
A mother’s duty is to protect her child.
You know that you can vaccinate your child, but you’ll have to walk fifteen miles in hot sun to get to a mobile outdoor clinic.
You know that a simple vaccine could save your child’s life and so you wrap your littlest child around your back, grab the hand of your older child and you walk.
You walk because you know that vaccine will save your child’s life.
You walk because you are desperate to save your child’s life.
You walk because you want your child to outlive you not the other way around.
A child dying before entering kindergarten is a reality for far too many families around the world.
Too many families in countries most of us will never visit bury their children before they reach kindergarten age because of lack of access to vaccines that we take for granted in most western countries.
I have to be honest. I never gave that much thought to vaccines before I became a mother two and half years ago to my son D2.
And when I became a mother, I got lots of unsolicted advice about vaccinating my child. So much advice. Spread the vaccines out. Don’t give your child the MMR vaccine before he is two. Don’t vaccinate until he’s ready to go to school. I was in a frenzy. I worried. I fretted. I read research reports and books dedicated to vaccine safety. Then I got a grip and got real.
I vaccinated my child.
I realized that I am blessed with health insurance, regular access to good medical care and yes, vaccines, that keep my child healthy.
Here in the US and other western countries, we have the luxury and privlege of deciding whether we want to vaccinate our children. We have a choice. But parents in places like Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Cambodia, Laos -the list goes on – often do not.
What I didn’t know before getting involved with the ShotAtLife campaign is that nearly 1.7 million children die needlessly from preventable childhood diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, polio and measles.
I didn’t know that one in five children lack access to life-saving immunizations.
But there’s good news. These children don’t have to die and it costs so very little to protect them. In fact, just $20 can protect a child for life against these diseases.
The better news is that the growing availability of vaccines in developing countries means that polio has nearly been eradicated from most parts of the world. Measles is on the decline as are deaths related to diarrhea and pneumonia. In Mexico, diarrhea-related deaths decreased by 46% following the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine. That represents a reduction of about 880 deaths per year!
I can easily spend $20 indulging in my favorite coffee drink each week. Why not help vaccinate a child?
After D2 was born, I made a commitment to him and myself that I would do what I could to make his world better. I also felt it was my obligation to be a voice for other mothers around the world.
That’s why I got involved with the Shot@Life campaign which is mobilizing communities around the country to advocate for life-saving vaccines for children in developing countries. If you believe like I do that every child deserves to have a healthy childhood and a productive adulthood, please get involved with this campaign. Getting involved is easy. Start by going to the campaign’s official website. Then get started!
Write to your local congressional representative
Host an awareness/fundraising event
Write an Op-Ed for your local paper sharing your support for global vaccines
There is so much you can do to ensure every child has a shot at those milestones we look forward to as parents: those first steps, that first lost tooth, the first day of school, so many milestones to cherish.
Here in the US and other parts of the western world, we are mired in deep philosophical arguments about the safety of vaccines despite the undeniable science that demonstrate that vaccines have immeasurably improved our public health and increased our life span.
Frankly, (I promised myself I wasn’t getting on a soap box for this post but I’ve got to sound off just this once) it’s astounding. I think about what a parent in Mexico or Mozambique might say if they knew we were voluntarily not immunizing our children. Would we trade places with them? I think not. Would they trade places with us?
Thankfully the tide seems to be turning as physicians and the scientific community improve their ability to communicate the science and safety of vaccines to the public.
The issue is quite simple really. Vaccines save lives. Period.
I believe in vaccines. I believe that they are one of the best and most cost effective ways of protecting our children’s health. I believe that every child no matter where she lives in the world, deserves to have the same opportunity my child has. I hope you’ll join me and support the Shot@Life Campaign and global vaccines.
I totally recognize the angst of being a new mom and having your head spin with the information, recommendations, and opinions (yes, many of those) coming at you about this touchy subject. And like you, I chose to vaccinate. No, I hadn’t heard of or known of a child with measles, or mumps, or polio, or pertussis EVER. But those folks who used the apparent lack of illness around us as a reason NOT to vaccinate, instead gave me a reason TO vaccinate. And coincidentally, right around the time of my first son’s birth, there was an outbreak – a deadly one, from what I recall – of measles in the Midwest after an international flight. Once I decided to immunize our children fully, I was 100% sure of my decision. (Just like when we chose not to circumcise…but that’s a whole other touchy subject. Oy!)
Being so fully convicted about vaccination, and frankly humbled that it was a choice we are fortunate enough to have, you can imagine my dismay and frustration at what we learned last year. I chose to leave full-time employment last year and we switched to my husband’s insurance which was with the same provider. After taking our son for his pre-kindergarten physical and vaccinations, and paying the typical $30 copay, we received a bill for $900. Okay, I exaggerate; it was only $893. Our insurance covered only $100 and we were responsible for this remainder. Believe me: I have a longstanding and wholehearted support for efforts to assist and support families around the world. My husband is from South Africa and we have deep and personal insight on the plight of less wealthy nations. But this up close and personal realization of the plight of families here in the U.S. has shifted something for me.
Jeni – you make so many good points in your comment. It took all my energy not to go on a full-fledged rant about why American parents are opting out of vaccinating their children. We are seeing more and more outbreaks of measles because people are not vaccinating their children. I think our grandparents and great grand parents who saw so many of their friends and loved ones die from polio, measles, pneumonia in their day would be so very disappointed in us. I can completely understand your frustration. That $900 bill (let’s just round it up and call it what it is) is outrageous. Vaccines should be FREE quite frankly. I hope you’ll be able to challenge your insurance company to see if you can get that bill lowered. I think if we want to get vaccine compliance back up to where it was 10-12 years ago, we need to ensure that people aren’t paying an arm and a leg to protect their families in addition to better education about the importance of herd immunity. Lack of access to affordable health care in the wealthiest country in the western hemisphere is one of the great ironies (and tragedies) of our age. Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment.