Immediately upon approaching the registration table at the Shot at Life Champions’ Summit last Monday, I got pneumonia. Having pneumonia throughout the end of the summit on Wednesday afternoon didn’t slow me down, though. In fact, I was a party to the spread of pneumonia, polio, measles, and diarrhea all over Capitol Hill before I left.
Perhaps I should explain. My “pneumonia” (above) is actually about 3 inches high. So were the other plush diseases we passed out on Wednesday. Each of them represents vaccine-preventable diseases that causes the death of one child every 20 seconds.
I have been involved in Shot at Life for a little over a year. As I told the congressional staff with whom I met on Wednesday, the first and foremost reason to become involved in this particular cause is that I am a mom. I am a mom who does not want any mom, anywhere in the world, to know the pain of losing a child. Secondly, over the course of a career in a State Child Health Insurance program, I have seen the indisputable cost effectiveness of prevention over treatment. Although my experience is domestic, the same concept extends worldwide.
I had the opportunity earlier this week to participate in the Shot at Life Champions Summit in Washington, DC. I stand humbled and incredulous at the depth of intellect, commitment, and originality of the 130 Champions who were present. We learned facts about global immunization efforts, strategies for succeeding as teams, and ways to approach our elected officials to advocate for sustained funding and support for critical global health and global vaccine programs.
Rather than regurgitating 2 1/2 days worth of material for you in one blog post, I’ll share this infographic for the time being:
A few closing thoughts for this post (although there will be more to come on this topic!):
Teamwork Is Good
I woke up in a panic Wednesday morning, blanking on the fourth of the four “vaccine preventable diseases.” I thought, “gosh if I can’t even remember the fourth disease, how on earth will I make a finely articulated and researched point to Senator Rubio’s aide in three hours.” With the exception of the visit to Senator Rubio’s office, I had other Champions with me. If something slipped my mind, Nicolette or Sili could chime in. It’s not necessary to carry all the weight solo. (And when I was solo at Senator Rubio’s office, there was a Shot at Life staff member with me who could have helped if I had gotten stuck and it turns out the staffer went to Ethiopia last year on an awareness trip so she was exceptionally well prepared to discuss global health issues!).
Different Audiences Need Different Messages
I suppose this is obvious. It’s true in every area of my life. But this training helped me be more acutely aware of the different angles from which an elected official sees an issue. Anyone who knows me even casually knows I am a causes/save the world kind of girl. But it takes more than that to convince someone who may need a more nuanced presentation than “it’s the right thing to do!” I focused on the cost effectiveness of global vaccination programs, because I know our elected officials face a constituency who wants every penny accounted for. I learned, for example, that the United States recoups our total expenditure on smallpox eradication every 23 days, because we no longer have to vaccinate against the disease.
Diseases Don’t Carry Passports
Our world is big and vast physically. We have institutional structures set up to regulate who goes where. Germs really don’t care about those institutional structures. That’s why the fact that there is still polio in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan means that we are all still at risk.
I learned more, of course: that my visit to my Representative’s office will be just a drop in the bucket unless I follow it up with a letter delivered to his district office (preferably); that there is a national security tie-in for immunizations (because extremists can take advantage of weak government health systems by providing health services themselves to establish their credibility); that most discussions of the need for global vaccine programs will take a detour through the current domestic trends which find families refusing to vaccinate their children because of misinformation they have received.
I learned that there is a place for me in the creation of a healthier world by encouraging immunization of children in developing countries.
I learned that when you hand a little plush polio, diarrhea, measles, or pneumonia to a legislative staffer that everyone may giggle but no one will walk away uninformed.
A few pictures of my time at the champions summit:
BUT it is important to remember the goal, protecting someone like this:
Do you have an interest in getting involved? There are many ways to be a part of Shot at Life:
Fund polio vaccines by running, walking, cycling using the Charity Miles App: www.charitymiles.org.
Become a champion by applying at: http://shotatlife.org/about-us/champions/.
Yes, we all chuckled a bit as we bid goodbye to the aides at the offices of Senator Rubio, Senator Nelson, Representative Southerland, and Representative Grayson (Sili/Nicolette) and “gave” them polio (in the form of a 3 inch piece of fluff). But the lack of access to life saving vaccines and immunizations against some of the most deadline diseases that children throughout our world face is no laughing matter.
Instead of “giving” them polio, measles, pneumonia, or diarrhea, let’s give them a Shot At Life.