The word “vaccine” can raise hackles among parents.
Medical experts and many parents ardently support efforts to get all children the recommended vaccinations in the recommended order. A vocal minority remain skeptical.
One of the unspoken assumptions of this vaccine discussion is that those engaged in it can choose.
In many parts of the world, parents can’t. Vaccines are not an option at all.
The World Health Organization has designated this week as World Immunization Week. In conjunction with it, the United Nations Foundation has just launched a specials appeal to American parents called “Shot at Life.” The campaign’s intent is to help trigger advocacy and raise funds that would go toward providing greater access to vaccines against polio, measles, diarrhea and pneumonia in developing countries.
One of the pillars of the campaign is to sidestep the vaccine debate in the U.S. and instead capitalize on an interesting fact: Even parents who are skeptical of vaccine use in the U.S. support it in poverty-stricken countries.
“We’re not here to preach or to judge,” Devi Ramachandran Thomas, the Shot at Life director, told a group of mothers on a recent night. I was among them.
She had just shown a video depicting a series of healthy, happy children who live in developing countries to make the point that families who live there are not fundamentally different than families here. They just have far less, including little or no access to vaccines.
“We are just here to say that those moms also deserve the luxury of choice.”
She later followed-up in an e-mail with, “I think American moms (and quite a few dads) are uniquely responding to Shot at Life because they believe and know that every child, no matter where they are from, deserves a shot at his first smile, his first step, his first bedtime story and his first day of school.”
Her judgment-free appeal was intentional as the “vaccine hesitant” population here is significant.
Research in the journal Pediatrics has estimated that up to 10 percent of American parents are now wary of vaccines.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that last year was the worst year for measles in the U.S. in 15 years. Experts said many of the 222 cases were among children whose parents had declined to have them vaccinated.
Thomas told me of a study on vaccine messaging by Hart Research Associates in 2010, where researchers reported that parents’ safety concerns “faded quickly” when discussion turned to developing countries: “Participants overwhelmingly calculated risk-reward in this context in favor of vaccines that will save children who are at much higher risk for common, preventable, deadly diseases.”
Researchers quoted one subject as saying: “It’s different there .. the risks of getting the disease and suffering from it far outweigh the risk of whatever potential injury there may be from...vaccine.”
That’s an attitude the UN Foundation — and countless families — are counting on.
More information on global immunization and the Shot at Life campaign, including how to donate, is here.
Do you feel differently about vaccine use in the U.S. versus developing countries? Why or why not?