Parents Play Key Role as Local & National Vaccine Advocates
Parents who have watched their child suffer from a vaccine preventable disease can often feel blindsided. Prior to their own personal experiences they’re usually unfamiliar with the dangers of these diseases. Sometimes they don’t realize that these diseases are a threat or that they continue to infect people around the country and the world. In cases of influenza and pertussis, we often see children who were unvaccinated because they were too young to start receiving these vaccines. In other cases, like those involving meningococcal serogroup B, parents were simply not aware of the need for, or the availability of, a certain vaccine. There are even times when parents who have lost a child to a vaccine preventable disease are surprised to learn that some people choose not to vaccinate, and in doing so contribute to disease outbreaks that put others at increased risk.
In the 25 years that Every Child By Two has spent trying to protect families from vaccine-preventable diseases, they’ve had the distinct honor of working with many parents who’ve lost a child to a preventable disease. These Parent Advocates want to prevent such a tragedy from happening again and in working with organizations like Every Child By Two, they’re able to use their personal stories to help educate the public about the need for vaccines.
Katie and Craig Van Tornhout are two such people who have turned a tragedy into a personal mission.
After five years and four miscarriages this young couple believed their prayers had been answered when they finally welcomed their precious daughter Callie into their lives. However, their joy quickly turned to sorrow on January 30, 2010, when Callie died of pertussis at only five weeks of age.
Callie was too young to have started her infant DTaP vaccination series, which begins at 2 months of age and helps protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. In the months that followed Callie’s death, the Van Tornhout’s learned a lot about the dangers of pertussis and the importance of adult Tdap vaccine. They learned that pertussis is especially deadly to infants and that
most infants who contract pertussis are typically exposed by an adult whose own pertussis immunity may have waned from the vaccine they received as a child. And they learned that Callie contracted pertussis in the very hospital she was born in.
In an effort to prevent other children from suffering the way Callie had, the Van Tornhout’s are now helping to educate others about the risk of pertussis. They not only encourage other parents to fully vaccinate their children, but they stress the importance of adult Tdap boosters, which are especially important for expectant mothers as well as the close family members and caregivers of young babies.
Over the past six years they have channeled their grief into something positive.
Shortly after becoming Parent Advocates for Every Child by Two, Katie was interviewed by numerous national organizations and media including Good Morning America, CNN and CBS News with Katie Couric. She participated in a satellite media tour speaking where she was able to speak on 12 radio stations across the country in conjunction with Sound of Pertussis and March of Dimes. She was even nominated by Indiana March of Dimes for Mother of the Year for her education efforts on Tdap.
Katie and Craig have also been involved with their state immunization coalition, Vaccinate Indiana. In fact, in 2015 Katie received the Centers for Disease Control’s Childhood Immunization Champion Award in Indiana. In February, Katie appeared on Fox28 News, talking about her testimony in front of the Indiana State Legislature in support of Callie’s Law, which would require healthcare workers to be up-to-date on their vaccines. And just this week, Katie had the honor of awarding three Indiana clinics with a special Callie Van Tornhout Toddler Award. This award is now given to practices and clinics in her home state of Indiana that have achieved excellent coverage levels of 4 DTaP, 3 Polio, 1 MMR, 3 Hib, 3 Hep B, 1 Varicella, and 4 PCV vaccines for patients 19-35 months old.
In addition to continuing to contribute to state and national level advocacy efforts, Katie and Craig Van Tornhout have created Callie Cares, a not for profit organization which allows them to honor Callie and keep her spirit alive by giving back to other parents with hospitalized children. For years now they’ve been gathering donations of travel size toiletries and assembling them into care bags for the guests. Their care packages include everything from shampoo, conditioner, bath soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, lotion and anything else that may make for a more comfortable stay. (Visit the Callie Cares Facebook page for details on how to donate.)
In May, Katie will be honored as a featured speaker at the National Conference for Immunization Coalitions and Partnerships, where she will be discussing the importance of vaccine advocacy. By using her own experiences as an example, she hopes to encourage other state and local level health partners to connect with parents in their local communities to help educate people about the value of vaccines.
While the Van Tornhout’s have a compelling story to share, we must recognize that we all have personal experiences with vaccines.
If you and your family are vaccinated and have not suffered with a preventable diseases, than you too have something to tell others about. Vaccines work! Every day they spare people from needless suffering. They save lives and prevent lifelong health problems and disabilities. But these benefits are not so easily recognized because they are not seen. However, we need parents to discuss the benefits of vaccines, just as often and as easily as they discuss other health and parenting issues.
If you are a parent who wants to help advocate for vaccines in your area, let us know by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can choose to share your personal experiences on our blog and website, or we can also help put you in touch with your local immunization coalition. There are so many ways for you to get involved and help make an impact as Katie and Craig Van Tornhout have done.