The Makings of A Vaccine Advocate
Aug 22, 2012

Recently I’ve had to completely withdraw from my online activities to focus on a major transition at home.  As I’ve dealt with the chaos of moving five children and a dog to a new home in a new state, I’ve had to accept that the demands of being a military spouse and mother often interfere with my efforts to advocate for vaccines…(or so I thought).
Today, after almost two weeks of very limited connectivity, I sat down at my computer and began the daunting task of “catching up” on several weeks worth of vaccine related news.
First, I discovered that my blog followers are capable of keeping a conversation going for much longer than anyone would reasonably expect.  There are still comments coming in on old blog posts and despite the occasional off-topic sidebars and insults, there are several loyal commentors who continually impress me with their knowledge and commitment to the cause.
Then, a quick look at the current immunization news confirmed that the whooping cough epidemic remains a major health concern, and I was saddened to hear of the loss of a two month old infant in my new state of North Carolina.
Even the heavily debated issue of school vaccine requirements is garnering a lot of attention as kids prepare to head back to school.  California is just one of many states that is considering legislative changes to the personal belief exemption process and it’s important to note that the new laws are not interfering with parents rights to get an exemption – only how the exemption process will work.
Then I came across a post from Katie Ellis on the Moms Who Vax blog.  It was at that moment that I recognized how comforting it is to be part of a larger online community.  I realized how my small efforts to generate immunization discussions on Shot of Prevention and Vaccinate Your Baby have actually created a ripple effect over the past few years.  And while I may not have been able to participate much lately, there was still plenty of advocacy to be noted in my absence.
Katie writes openly about how she has come to be a passionate vaccine advocate. Her professional background as a microbiologist was certainly a major catalyst, but she explains that not that long ago she was a science-minded mom who never really questioned vaccines.  In fact, she admits to being a bit unaware of the fact that there were parents who “were not vaccinating due to fear, uncertainty and doubt”.  However, after hearing Dr. Offit elaborate on the history and impact of the anti-vaccine movement, Katie was called to get involved.

“I started to peruse pro-vaccine blogs, such as Shot of Prevention, and Facebook pages, such as Vaccinate Your Baby and Nurses Who Vaccinate.  Amazed by the depth of knowledge of the active pro-vaccine advocates on those pages, I was deeply inspired – and my passion grew.”

I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Katie through various social media connections for over a year now.  And I recall sharing my enthusiasm for the Moms Who Vax blog with Shot of Prevention readers when it had first launched.  I loved the idea of mothers sharing their personal stories.  Mothers who, for one reason or another, were passionate and proud of their choice to vaccinate their children.  However, it wasn’t until I read Katie’s comments today that I realized that the makings of a vaccine advocate are grounded in the community that we are a part of.
We are more than just individuals trying to make a difference.  We are a community of concerned people who are working towards the same purpose.  Our success does not depend on whether one individual can write a blog post or respond to a Facebook comment that week or not.  Our success is a culmination of efforts that try to help parents dispel the myths, conquer the fears and understand the science behind the vaccines so that they will help protect their children and their communities from infectious diseases.
By engaging with a community of advocates, Katie has naturally progressed from a concerned parent to an active participant in the online conversation, like so many of us have before.  I know that I can trace my steps back through my own advocacy, from concerned parent to Shot@Life Immunization Champion.  And even though I’ve been “off line” recently, I realize that my immunization conversations never really stopped.  I discussed immunizations with an elderly church member who is planning to travel abroad next month.  I reminded a friend about the importance of the meningitis vaccine for her daughter before she left for college.  I even had a conversation about the importance of Tdap boosters with the school staff members when I  enrolled my children in their new schools.
Now, as my neighbors have come to welcome me with banana bread, fruit baskets and potted plants, I’m reminded of the support that is offered within a community.  Tonight, as I accept a dinner invitation from a new friend, I will go knowing that while I may not be online to respond to some unsubstantiated claim about a vaccine safety concern, someone else will be.  And tomorrow will be another day where I can try to make a difference.
So I’m curious to know what kinds of experiences have inspired you to join the immunization conversation?  And what recent vaccine related conversations have you had with your neighbors in your community?

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