One of the popular signs seen at this weekend March for Science read, “Got polio? Me neither! Thanks, science!” Lots of people found that one particularly funny, including myself. In addition to being a humorous and evoking gratitude for science, the sign also reminds me to appreciate that we live in a country where vaccines are readily available.
That’s not true everywhere. Polio remains endemic in northern Nigeria and parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a total of 37 cases last year. While that’s just three countries, that is three countries too many. This week is World Immunization Week, which is the perfect time to focus on changing that.
We have made so much progress. In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio worldwide. The enormous progress is the result of global efforts by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). And we have to keep it going because we are so close to eradicating the disease.
Vaccines are one of the safest, most cost-effective ways to save children’s lives, improve health, and ensure long-term economic prosperity. In the past 20 years, immunization has prevented 20 million deaths globally. Great strides have been made against measles, rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease.
But still, the United Nations health agency this week released a report finding that the full potential of vaccines is still not fully utilized. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease? That’s 1.5 million children every year.
We can do better. We must do better.
When we do better, we all benefit. My dear friend whose daughter is undergoing chemotherapy benefits when she doesn’t have to worry about the diseases her child who cannot get vaccines may be exposed to. The same is true for my friend who has an immune-compromised son due to an organ transplant. Infants too young for vaccines and the elderly are also protected.
In addition, a healthy community is a stable community, and stable communities are less likely to become safe havens for terrorism.
If you want to help this World Immunization Week, there are a few things you can do.
Let your lawmakers know that you support vaccines and want the federal budget to fully fund global child immunization programs for Fiscal Year 2018. You can do so here.
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