It is a really cool thing when a place like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation opens up its doors for a Social Media tweetup, and I was really honored to be invited to their third such event, even though it coincided with the USA and Belgium game especially since Bill Nye was going to be making an appearance. Our topic was vaccines and that is a topic really close to my heart because my babies were born early and spent some NICU time. Because they were so fragile, I was adamant (backed with advice from our pediatrician) that anyone who came close to my kids was up to date on their vaccines (especially whooping cough!) and it was frightening to me that people let fears of needles, or distrust with ‘medication’ get in the way of scientific proof. I had to explain that sickness would not help my babies’ immunity AT ALL. It would not “toughen them up”, it would kill them. And I had to do this too many times when our little family was in a very fragile state. Thankfully we are healthy. Thankfully we have access to amazing medical help and we have the ability to find facts readily when we sift through mis-informed, fear-based rhetoric. But not everyone has access to vaccines and that is not okay.
At this Gates Social, one horrific fact I learned was that millions of kids every year die around the world from diarrhea. DIARRHEA. How on earth can this be? In an era where I can order food on my PHONE and it arrives at my door people do not have access to health and they are dying of things they do not need to die from. People want health but can’t have it because we don’t think of them or realize their problems exist. And in our ignorance kids are dying.
I was thankful I was sitting at a table with a woman named Sheridan from Shot at Life. Her organization helps children get to their 5th birthday. I remember our 5th birthday, and it wasn’t at all just about making it. It was cake flavors and stressing about decorations and wondering what goodie bags we were going to have. Sitting with Sheridan made me realize that we have messed up ideas for humanity. I’ve since signed up to pledge help for Shot at Life and I’m determined to know more about how to help people in other countries get access to vaccines. And I’m definitely going to be sharing that info with you!
Another speaker, Orin Levine, the Director of Vaccine delivery at the Gates Foundation was inspirational because he explained how brave people are in getting vaccines to people who want and need them. Mothers walk for hours with their children only to stand in line for more hours or to be told they need to come back another day and they do because they want their kids to survive. Vaccine Center workers set alarms to wake them through the night and they get night upon night of interrupted sleep as they need to keep vaccines cool in places that are hot that have unreliable electricity. And thankfully all this determination is adding up to helping and in places all around the world. Orin was name-dropping places I had to look up on a globe when I got home and it is amazing that people like him care so much about places that most of us don’t even know exist. I was so inspired by Orin’s talk and about his connection to this cause that was strengthened because of his kids. (His story about a mom who lost her two kids to vaccine-preventable diseases nearly made me cry.) It was nice to see he wasn’t just a man in a suit-he was a man who had seen kids die from lack of vaccinations, he was bravely trying to help them, he cared deeply and he was still optimistic.
A little field trip over to an organization called Path made me realize how many heroes really live in our midst. Not only do we have to get vaccinations to places around the world, we have to keep them at a certain temperature, make them easy to administer and make the tools safe so they aren’t used in ways that can make people sicker. Path is a non-profit that transforms health through innovation and their mission was evident in all the neat ideas they had for vaccines. They added temperature monitors to vaccine containers so people can tell just by looking at the container that the vaccines have been stored at the appropriate temperature for healthy use. They make single-use vaccine needles so they can’t be re-used again. And they’re working on ingestible vaccines and vaccines with NO needles to help with waste and other scientific things (yes, I’m not a scientist, but it totally impressed me!)
Finally Bill Nye, did not disappoint. He is smart and funny in real life, just like in his tv shows I remember from Science class. He likened people not getting vaccinated to people being allowed to carry guns, another horrible and scary thing that I and many mom friends I know feel very passionate about. He said vaccines are “Science and not magic” and though as a non-scientist they still feel very magic to me, I got the message. We trust food trucks (blech) more than we trust people who are trying to help us with our health and we need to help make sure we don’t perpetuate myths that could be disastrous and deadly.
And some time during this conference, the United States lost their World Cup match. We could hear it echoing in rooms above and below where we were touring. But somehow the WORLD CUP MATCH, even though it seemed so important at the time, diminished to just a game. These people we met at this social are fighting in a real global war. They have an important mission. And I’m so glad that for one day, I got to see a little bit of it and get involved. I will definitely be reading the Impatient Optimists blog from the Gates Foundation to keep up to date on what they’re up to!
(PS. We also toured the Gates Foundation Visitor’s Center at this social and it is such a cool place! I brought my kids there a little while ago and they love the interactive exhibits and it really gives a feel for what the Gates Foundation is doing in its neighborhood and around the world. We’re really lucky to have the Gates in Seattle and if you get a chance to check it you should-it’s even totally FREE!)
(PPS. I was just a visitor at this event, so the ideas here are definitely my own.)