My mother is a genealogist – she researches and writes family histories. I’ve tromped around graveyards since I was small and have learned they are not scary places. I feel peaceful and reverent as I let the markers reveal their stories. They are places of discovery, and yes, places of heartbreak. I have learned important things from these people whose names we know, but whose lives we rarely understand. As I have read my mother’s work, I have realized that not only can she recite litanies of facts and figures about her ancestors, but that knows and loves them as people.
She has wept over more than one tiny grave with its even tinier headstone – usually un-named, or given the same name over and over until one child lived. We forget what it’s like for parents to lose so many of their children before them. I have ancestors who lost more than half their offspring. Can you imagine losing 6 of your 12, 8 of your 10, 3 of your 4 children? Can you imagine holding infant after feverish infant in your arms as they slipped away from you? Diptheria. Scarlet fever. Small pox. Pneumonia. Whooping cough. Influenza. I’ve seen more than enough baby headstones.
Those graves bring home to me the revolution of vaccinations in the last century. Vaccines must be the greatest medical breakthrough in history and are responsible for highly cost effective public health reversals. Millions and millions of children’s lives have been saved all over the world.
That revolution continues. Just last week India was removed from the list of polio endemic countries. They haven’t had a new case of polio for over a year and they have systems in place to ensure this trend continues. The world is that much closer to eradicating this horrible disease – a second global plague to be removed from the earth in recent history. Only 3 countries remain on the polio endemic list (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria).
We have made incredible strides in recent years. 80% of the world’s children are receiving the big four vaccines – measles, polio, pneumonia and diarrhea. But 1 in 5 children still are not. The global vaccine community calls it “reaching the fifth child.” It costs $20 to provide those life-saving shots at life.
Children still die in the developed world. It is always tragic and always feels unjust. But in our world, they rarely die from a vaccine-preventable disease. In the global south, a child dies every 20 seconds from just such a disease – one that could be prevented with a tiny shot or dose of drops.
I invite you to get informed and get engaged. And together let’s give every child a shot @ whatever they want! Join me and others who care about this issue for a Twitter chat this Wednesday, March 14th at 9pm EST. Hashtag #shotatlife.
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Shot@Life is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation. I am the Community Manager for a UN Foundation sister initiative, the Million Moms Challenge. I have been passionate about vaccines for more than 25 years. Content and opinions expressed are all my own.