The recent approval of the medication Truvada for preventing HIV infection, and the ensuing excitement about being one step closer to developing a vaccine for HIV remind us, once again, of the importance of vaccines.
Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization Office of the UN, highlights the necessity of starting life strong. "Vaccines are a moral imperative," Dr Kumaresan says. "We must reach every child."
Yet that's not happening.
At a recent Global Vaccines conference in Atlanta sponsored by the National Press Foundation, I learned that 1 in 5 children worldwide lack access to life-saving vaccines. Here's a more easily relatable statistic: The number of children dying annually from preventable diseases in developing countries is nearly equivalent to half the children entering kindergarten in the U.S. every year.
The science behind vaccines is irrefutable. Since 2001, and because more than 1 billion kids in 60 developing countries have been vaccinated, the world measles death rate has dropped 74 percent. The April launch of the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life campaign is meant to educate and empower every American to promote vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives. You can often catch me touting vaccines on FOX Chicago News as the most important public health intervention known to man.
Many organizations have longstanding commitments to promoting vaccines. As a former Rotary Fellow, I am well aware of Rotary International's involvement to eradicate polio, which is still endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Polio has re-established transmission in Angola, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And although India is now classified as a non-endemic country, failure to break the polio transmission cycle could lead to resurgence. RI's "This Close" campaign aims to break that cycle.
One notable American is doing her share. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter is the co-founder of "Every Child By Two." I had the opportunity to chat with her. She told me she has been championing vaccine since the 1970's –that's 40 years!
And that although she is pleased by the progress, there is much more to be done. When I asked her about the multiple dimensions on which to help people alleviate pain, hunger and sickness, she replied that if a child dies because of a vaccine-preventable illness, then those other things are irrelevant. The first step is to give a child a shot at life.
Hence the name of the campaign: Shot@Life.