Vaccine Ambassadors Embrace A Shared Responsibility
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) promoted Vaccination Week in the Americas earlier this year with a campaign entitled “Vaccination: A Shared Responsibility.” Their philosophy – that each and every person has a part to play in fighting vaccine-preventable diseases – is best exemplified through their partnership with a new vaccine advocacy program called Vaccine Ambassadors.
The concept of Vaccine Ambassadors revolves around a child receiving care from a doctor here in the United States. At the time of their visit, they’re offered the opportunity to become a Vaccine Ambassador, giving a small but meaningful monetary contribution to help fund vaccines for children in other countries.
Jackie Kaufman, RN, MN, the co-founder and Executive Director of Vaccine Ambassadors, began the organization in hopes of making a profound impact on the lives of others, and providing an opportunity for others to do the same. Her extensive background in women’s health and adult medicine, coupled with her experience with the UNC Public Health School’s Global AIDS Project, took her to areas where she saw, first hand, the needless suffering of children.
“I was shocked to discover that kids continue to die of diseases that many healthcare providers in the United States have never even seen, such as measles – something that has been preventable for decades.” Kaufman explains.
She started to talk to other parents. Conversations on soccer fields, playgrounds and schools convinced her that parents, once aware of this inequity, shared her passion and commitment to do something. But what?
Jackie began with a ‘doctor within borders’ concept, expanding on the idea that doctors could participate in a global health initiative without leaving the walls of their practice. Reflecting on her belief that one of the greatest gifts one parent can give another is a healthy start at life for their child, the Vaccine Ambassador program is designed to be a convenient, affordable and tangible way for providers, parents and children in the U.S. to give the gift of life-saving vaccines to children in other countries.
The initial pilot program consists of ten pediatric clinics in NC, with plans to expand nationally. The initial practitioners in the program enthusiastically support the program as a way to extend their advocacy beyond the limits of their practice. Additionally, providers consider the program as an opportunity to expand the current vaccine dialogue beyond vaccine safety. Highlighting the need for Vaccine Ambassadors helps physicians to emphasize the dangers of disease, while also reminding parents that preventable diseases still exist.
Jackie explains, “I was first drawn to this issue as a healthcare provider, but what really spurred me to action was my emotions as a parent. I couldn’t imagine losing a child under any circumstances, but especially to something so preventable. By engaging both parents and their children, we hope that the Vaccine Ambassadors program will not only fill an important healthcare need, but will also help parents to teach their children the value of global giving at every age.”
PAHO’s Deputy Director Dr. Jon Andrus agrees and adds,
“American families have always been known for their generosity and their spirit of good will. To that end, the Pan American Health Organization is proud to have this opportunity to work with Vaccine Ambassadors to mobilize resources that will save children’s lives. From an individual family basis, each donation may be small but in total they add up to enormous life-saving opportunities. In that context the old African proverb is actually quite fitting, something to the effect, ‘One strand of a spider’s web is weak, but woven together can trap a lion’. “
The Pan American Health Organization began their official partnership with Vaccine Ambassadors in April, 2013 and the funds received through this program will help the PAHO’s efforts to provide routine vaccination needs in Haiti, a country with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the Region of the Americas. Through a bulk purchase mechanism called the PAHO Revolving Fund (RF) for Vaccine Procurement, countries purchase necessary vaccines at the lowest available prices and on credit if needed. This program has been a driving force in the success of immunization programs across the Americas and the funds that Vaccine Ambassadors raise will go directly toward purchasing routine vaccines for Haiti’s children through this Revolving Fund.
Dr. Andrus explained it best when he said,
“Clearly, one of the best ways to save lives is through immunization. Because Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere, Haitian children suffer disproportionately from killer diseases that can be prevented with vaccines, particularly for those diseases that we take for granted in the United States — diseases like pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus to name a few. The setbacks caused by the earthquake and the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti, provide American families an opportunity to once again demonstrate to the rest of the world their spirit of good will through this vaccine donation program.”
Great strides are being made to improve global vaccination access and collaborative efforts like the one exemplified by PAHO and Vaccine Ambassadors, as well as PAHO’s additional partners such as UNICEF, the GAVI Alliance, the CDC, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the Tripartite Cooperation (Brazil, Haiti, and Cuba), are integral to increasing the availability of life-saving vaccines. Collectively, they are working with the Government of Haiti to help ensure strong immunization programs that will continue to impact future generations. Jackie, grateful for the opportunity, explains,
“We are so fortunate to be partners with such dedicated and accomplished leaders in global health. PAHO’s expertise in the field will allow us to deliver an efficient and impactful program.”
View this captivating photo story to see the powerful images of PAHO’s vaccination efforts in Haiti. To find out how you can support PAHO and Vaccine Ambassadors with their global vaccine initiatives, visit their websites and consider becoming a Vaccine Ambassadors today.