Making a Difference: How Soon is Now?

HOW SOON IS NOW?

When I was running recently, the lyrics to one of the songs on my Playlist were “How Soon is Now?”

Since I became a Shot at Life Champion in 2013, and a Champion Leader in late 2014, I have learned a lot about vaccine-preventable diseases and the potentially fatal barriers children face in many countries. I have met incredible people, and seen I have seen government “at work.”

If it were up to me, I would take a plane across the world and personally administer a child in Nigeria, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, the three countries where polio still exists, a life-saving vaccine. I would put together the $20 worth of vaccines that will give lifetime immunity from measles, polio, pneumonia, and diarrhea to the children who are currently dying every 20 seconds from those diseases and just do it.

The problem: simply vaccinating children is not simple.

Simply vaccinating children takes the intricately coordinated efforts of people in the affected countries, manufacturers who make the vaccines, vehicles who transport the vaccines, copious amounts of funding, and an alphabet soup of accounts and programs including UNICEF, GAVI, CDC, and USAID. “Simply” vaccinating children a world away takes the involvement of us here in the United States. Although there are many reasons, three of the main ones are:

  • the existence of these diseases anywhere is a threat to children everywhere (as we have seen with recent US-based measles outbreaks)
  • prevention is infinitely more cost effective than treatment
  • it is the right thing to do.

As a Champion and Champion Leader, I have had many great experiences in two short years:

Two Shot at Life Summits in Washington DC

Making a Difference: How Soon is Now?

With fellow champions Nicolette Springer and Sili Recio in March 2014

Meetings in the Washington, DC, offices of my Senators and Representatives

Meetings in the Tallahasssee, FL offices of my Senators and Representatives

In-Depth training on vaccine-preventable diseases, advocacy methods, and communication strategy

Meeting Jo Frost of Supernanny fame

Making a Difference: How Soon is Now?

Meeting other Shot at Life Champions who are hands down among the most committed, intelligent, creative, funny people on the planet

Making a Difference: How Soon is Now?

Publication of two Op-Eds, including this one, and a Letter to the Editor in the Tallahassee Democrat

An appearance on WTXL to discuss World Immunization Week 2014 (tune in again on Monday, April 27, between 6 am and 7 am for this year’s appearance!)

In the midst of all these opportunities, I can grow frustrated though. It is easy for doubt to seep in:

  • How will this lovely hotel luncheon/fancy hors d’ouerves event/[insert very first-world goodie or experience here] make a difference?
  • How will that e-mail, letter, phone call, or tweet I sent to my legislator matter?
  • How can I, “just a mom,” do anything for that child in Pakistan?

I recently read A Simple Idea With Huge Potential by Mark Miller, and his post helped me channel those worries in a different, more productive way. Mark described a plan to accelerate his team’s performance by “assigning a champion to each large body of work.” Among the attributes expected of his “champions” was this:

Ensure the work gets done. 

I may not be able to travel to Pakistan to vaccinate a child personally, but I can develop the expertise to make sure our government supports the President’s budget fully so that funding and support for critical global health and global vaccine programs is sustained.

I can inform, advocate, and fundraise for the cause of global vaccination.

I can recruit fellow committed, intelligent, creative, funny people to join me. Heck, you don’t even have to be funny!

We are holding a Champion Training this Wednesday night, April 29, from 8-9:30 p.m.. Please join us, even if you aren’t sure you want to commit to being a champion. It will be a fantastic opportunity to learn more! Click this link to sign up and get on the distribution list for the April 29 call.

I may not be able to completely fix the problem now, but I can commit to being a champion for ensuring the work gets done.

WHO WANTS TO JOIN ME?

Making a Difference: How Soon is Now?

Shot@Life–UN Foundation, Mozambique, Wednesday, June 1, 2011 (Photo/Stuart Ramson)

I am joining my fellow Shot at Life Champions in Advocate 2 Vaccinate, a coast-to-coast challenge for global vaccination that coincides with World Immunization Week (April 24-30). I am pleased to be joining several of them in a blog relay. Here’s the lineup:

Friday, April 24: Jennifer DeFranco with Let the Relay Begin…S@L, A2V, and Me! 

Friday, April 24: Nicole Morgan with Want to be a Super Hero?

Saturday, April 25: Nicolette Springer with Advocate to Vaccinate: You Can Be a Champion! 

April 26 – Pam Brown Margolis with It’s World Immunization Week! Let’s Keep My Little Readers Healthy #vaccineswork #WIW15 and ME!

April 27 – Cindy Levin with Many Actions Save Many Lives

April 29 – Ilina Ewen with Advocate2Vaccinate During World Immunization Week

April 30 – Andrea Bates with Advocate2Vaccinate: World Immunization Week

Felisa Hilbert also wrote about her champion experience in The Power of One.

Making a Difference: How Soon is Now?

Getting (and Giving) Pneumonia Like A Champ

cropped pneumonia

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:

Vaccines and Economics

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:

dennis ogbe

Dennis Ogbe is a Paralympian, Polio Survivor, and UNICEF Polio Advocate

three women

We were told we’d be more effective if we “sounded like a team.” That team thing came together pretty seamlessly; these fellow Florida moms (Nicolette Springer and Sili Recio) rock!

I find it impossible to be cynical at times like this.

I find it impossible to be cynical at times like this.

 BUT it is important to remember the goal, protecting someone like this:

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

Do you have an interest in getting involved? There are many ways to be a part of Shot at Life:

Website:     www.shotatlife.org

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/shotatlifecampaign

Twitter:       @shotatlife

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.

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson

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