Walking the Capitol Hill Walk for Life-Saving Vaccines

"There is no evidence to support a vaccine-autism link, and irrefutable evidence supports vaccination as one of the best ways to protect the health and lives of children all over the world."  

"In the context of global vaccine efforts, vaccine hesitancy makes no sense and rarely comes up." 

These two statements underscore why I speak out about the critical importance of vaccines. I've lived in a country and gone to school with people affected by polio. Trust me, no one who has the real-world experience of living in fear of vaccine-preventable diseases questions the necessity of vaccines.

So I wince, almost daily, at the harm done by vaccine denialists, in opening the gate for resurgences of preventable diseases like measles. And I wince again when I see anti-vaccine misinformation  spread by tiny but zealous factions within the autism communities, then blithely repeated by media outlets that value page views more than they do public health [shakes fist].

Anti-vaccine misinformation is a double whammy of dangerous ignorance: It makes people fear autistic people like my beloved son Leo, and it endangers the health and lives of children all over the world. So I counter that misinformation with my own double whammy: I speak out against anti-vaccine information and fight for good vaccine information whenever I can, as hard as I can.

Champions on Capitol Hill. Photo: Shot@Life
Which means I was thrilled to be invited to Washington DC by the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life Campaign: as a UNF Global Issues Fellow to further the vaccine awareness work other bloggers and I did during Blogust, and as a Shot@Life Champion, trained on global vaccine awareness and issues and then unleashed on Capitol Hill with ninety-nine other Shot@Life champions to meet with our Senators and Congressional Representatives, in order to urge them to continue their support of life-saving global initiatives.

It was an life-changing experience, walking the halls of the Capitol Hill office buildings in the company of people who gave such incredible damns. Realizing, that, as a constituent, I have the same right any other constituent to have my say, directly to my members of Congress (or their staff). Which we did! We talked with staffers for both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

With James Hamos, Legislative Fellow, and
Megan Thompson, Legislative Assistant
Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein

And here is what we told the Senators' and Representatives' Congressional teams: Thank you for supporting global vaccine initiatives (because, thankfully, California and Silicon Valley were already on board). Let us know how we can support you -- and if you get blowback from your other constituents about diverting money internationally when we have so many domestic needs, we're here to provide you with information to address most any concern (and I also offered my services as a pro-vaccine autism parent). We need to keep funding international immunization programs for these reasons:
  • Humanitarian: A child dies every 20 seconds because they don't have access to life-saving vaccines, and 1 in 5 children lacks access to vaccines. Plus, immunizations save the lives of 2.5 million children, each year.
  • Public Safety: Measles infects 95% of the unvaccinated people who encounter a carrier; polio is only a plane ride away from returning to the United States. And babies can't be vaccinated in against measles in their first year of life. To keep ourselves safe, we must help eradicate vaccine-preventable disease in the rest of the world.
  • Cost-savings: The costs of eradicating smallpox are more than recouped by an annual savings of the one billion dollars that would have been needed for treatment, etc. And we're so close to eliminating polio! The current goal for a polio-free world is 2018, and it's reachable.

With Stacy Mintzer Herlihy, co-author of Your Baby's Best Shot
and Melody Butler of Nurses Who Vax
If the thought of meeting with a Congressional Representative scares you, don't let it. It's not that hard, as long as you're prepared. And were we ever prepared! Because when Shot@Life brought together 100 Champions from around the U.S. -- doctors, public health officials, nurses, parents, students -- they gave us a two-day crash course on global vaccines issues  (Storified for you to absorb in smaller bites), led by agencies supporting global vaccines initiatives. We had the privilege of hearing directly from representatives of the UN Foundation, Shot@Life, the World Health Organization (WHO), and GAVI Alliance reps, as well as polio survivor Dennis Ogbe. My favorite quote from the training was by pediatrician Dr. Margaret Fisher, who reminded everyone:

"When you choose not to immunize your child, you're playing Russian Roulette with your child."

And before the Champion Summit, Shot@Life invited a group of bloggers to participate in the UN Foundation Global Issues Fellowship, which was like our own mini TED conference on Conversations About Global Agencies, Public Health, Vaccines, and Communication: Challenges, Goals, Myths, and Next Steps. I felt so grateful and lucky to participate, and to spend time with the group pictured below. So grateful, in fact, that I've put together Storified versions of most of the talks below (just click on the "they talked about" links), so you, too, can share what we learned.
Some pretty damn amazing people. Recognize anyone?
Photo: Migdalia Rivera
Here are some of the write ups from the other Shot@Life/Global Issues Fellows (I'll add more as they come in):
Here are the wonderful people we ever-so-fortunate Global Issues Fellows got to hear from:

Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, former US Ambassador to Uganda and Burkina Faso, current Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs, US Dept of Health and Human Services, along with Peter Yeo, Vice President for Public Policy at the United Nations Foundation, spoke about health challenges around the globe -- include violence, and violence against women.
"Simple solutions to global violence against woman include having
a female police officer at the hospitals, as Namibia does."
Marie Claudet, a news producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Noam Levey, a National Health Reporter for the LA Times, spoke about the challenges and ethics of, and strategies for, reporting on global health issues like vaccines.
"Life expectancies in parts of US, like the Mississsippi Delta,
are dismal by global standards, due to lack of health care."

Dr. Asad Majeed Khan, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Pakistan graciously talked about the Pakistani government's unwavering commitment to eradicating polio within its borders, and the challenges it faces in doing so.
"When public confidence in vaccines is eroded,
trust restoration takes time."

Photo: Migdalia Rivera
Teddy Ruge is co-founder of Project Diaspora and Hive Colab, and the Lead Social Media Strategist for the World Bank. He talked about our obligation to "Create the Right Buzz" while supporting, not displacing, local development efforts.
"The merits of your campaign should be: real, local, current issues,
not making non-locals feel good."

Photo: Flickr/Mashable (cropped)
Sarah Craven is Washington DC representation office Director of the United Nations Population Fund, the "Agency that Makes Sex Boring." She talked about current crises in global women's and reproductive health -- and if her facts and stories don't outrage you, read them again.
"Half the girls in Ethiopia are married before their 15th birthday,
often by well-intentioned parents."

Photo: Chloe Jeffreys
Will Davis is the Director of the United Nations Development Programme, Washington Representation Office. He spoke about the United Nations' role in today's world, including why "Global goals should not be about rich countries preaching to poor countries."
"Peacekeeping is an attempt to get a country back on its feet after a crisis,
including jobs, and access to justice."

Photo: Chloe Jeffreys
Devi Ramachandran Thomas, Director of the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life program, spoke about prioritizing global children's health, including reducing child mortality through vaccinations and also by combating malnutrition, diarrhea, and malaria.
"In Mozambique, many parents will not name their child until after they've been vaccinated."
Me, Devi (center), Lucrecer Braxton
The incredibly engaging Aaron Sherinian is the United Nations Foundation's Vice President of Communications and Public Relations. He spoke about translating online efforts into real world global engagement that can actually make a difference.
"At the end of the day, social media trends remind us that humans have a lot in common."
Photo: UN Foundation
Now, hopefully, you're wondering "How can I help? Tell me tell me!" And of course, the answers are "get involved!" (Shot@Life's site has an excellent advocacy toolkit) and "donate!" Donate your time, donate funds, donate your voice in spreading the messages above, especially about global vaccine issues. You can always donate to Shot@Life directly, but you can also manage your advocacy and outreach with the Shot@Life app, or even donate photos -- each worth $1 towards global vaccines -- through the Donate a Photo app.

If there is a single message you should be taking away from the onslaught of information above, it is this: You have so many options for helping to get life-saving vaccines to the children who need them. Pick an option, and get going!


Again, my sincere thanks to the UN Foundation and Shot@Life, and everyone who made this incredible experience possible -- including my companions in the Shot@Life Champions Summit and Global Issues Fellowship. Disclosure: The UN Foundation provided my travel & lodgings for the two events.


  1. What a great re-cap of the Summit events! You are a great story teller. Im sure those who weren't able to attend can pick up the excitement and motivation from the weeks events. It was a pleasure meeting all this years Shot@Life Champions and I look forward to working together to protect kids around the world from vaccine preventable diseases!

    1. Melody, it was great to meet you, especially under such auspicious & productive circumstances. Onward!

  2. Amazing recap. Shan, you are one of the most amazing advocates I have ever known. I am going to try and not sound cheesy when I say that just being around you is inspiring, but, maybe that sounds cheesy. I always learn something new from you, as I'm sure many of us at the summit did.

    1. Wow, Ellen. Coming from someone with your advocacy record, that is humbling. Thank you. And, likewise about the always learning.

  3. Anonymous7:45 AM

    Good for you! I think the obsession with vaccines and autism really prevents research from investigating the real causes--or, better yet, from investigating effective therapies.

    Bethany @ Puzzled No Longer

  4. Great article Shan. I'm so glad you made me aware of it (by posting a picture on Facebook) but now I'm wishing I had managed to get in more than 28 photos before the Shot@Life ended.

  5. Great summit! happy photos ;) I know there will be many more potentially lifesaving vaccines in the years to come.

    Jane@Cadieux et Langevin


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