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Dr. Gray has been involved with Shot@Life, a United Nations Foundation advocacy group, since 2014, but it was a natural continuation of the work she had been doing her entire career. Though her first degree was in health policy and she was planning to enter law school, after being awarded a grant to travel the world following her graduation, she changed her focus to nursing.
“I saw firsthand the health inequities present around the world and here at home, and that realigned my whole life. I wanted to do more to directly help people,” she explains. That was reflected through years of volunteer relief work, by facilitating student trips to provide health care in countries around the world and, more recently, through her work with the University of Botswana as a 2018–2019 Fulbright Scholar.
As a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Gray and her family relocated to Botswana in support of her proposal to help increase access to care by expanding the university’s advanced practice nursing programs. She also worked with the World Health Organization Center for Nursing and Midwifery for Africa to extend educational programs for nurses across the continent.
She first learned of Shot@Life from her colleagues on the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) International Committee. She attended her first Shot@Life Champion Summit and was hooked.
“I’ve been a Shot@Life Champion since then, and I’ve been a Shot@Life Champion Leader for the past few years. My first Summit, I recruited some of my doctoral nurse practitioner [NP] students to join me, and I still continue to recruit new Champions,” she says.
“The Shot@Life mission is to decrease global childhood mortality by increasing prevention through vaccination. Diseases like polio, measles and rotavirus kill more children under the age of five than any other cause. Shot@Life encourages grassroots advocacy to help ensure funding for childhood immunization programs around the world.”
According to Dr. Seth Berkley, chief operating officer of Gavi, who was a featured speaker at the 2020 Shot@Life Champion Summit, “For every dollar you invest [in vaccines], you get a $54 return."
The 2020 Shot@Life Champion Summit, held February 24–26 in Washington D.C., brought together more than 120 Champions to learn from global health experts, meet with members of Congress and network. This year, Champions visited a record number of 159 offices across the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
“The Summit itself is so exciting. Each year, there are 100 to 200 Champions in attendance. This year, we had speakers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], the United Nations, Johns Hopkins and other global health partner organizations,” says Dr. Gray.
“For newer Champions, the Summit’s interactive workshops on op-eds, letters to the editor and social media are hugely helpful. Courses are also available on government processes and how to be an effective advocate. The policy and lobbying knowledge Champions can develop through Shot@Life are transferrable skills that are helpful for anyone wanting to make an impact.”
In the Spring, Champions are particularly busy calling congressional offices, calling representatives and their staff and reinforcing takeaways from the Champion Summit.
“For example, a group of Champions in my state just met with Virginia Congresswoman Elaine Luria virtually. We were originally supposed to meet with the Congresswoman’s legislative assistant, but she wanted to meet with us herself when she heard we were NPs. She had lots of questions for us regarding vaccinations, as well as COVID-19,” says Dr. Gray.
“The more you meet with congressional leaders, the more you are able to promote the Shot@Life agenda. In 2019 alone, Shot@Life protected more than $577 million in government funding for global childhood immunization programs.”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there has been additional light shone upon the importance of vaccinations.
“COVID-19 has reminded us that diseases have no borders. Vaccination both at home and internationally is so important. The Shot@Life initiatives — in particular, immunizing children abroad — helps those countries, but it helps the U.S., too,” says Dr. Gray. “COVID-19 has really shown how quickly disease can spread, especially when vaccination is not available.”
To encourage immunization in clinical practice, education is key. With a focus on health promotion, disease prevention, health education and counseling, NPs can provide the necessary, credible information to explain the importance of vaccinations.
“For patients with vaccine hesitancy, it’s often due to the amount of misinformation available,” says Dr. Gray. “Education can really sway these people. They don’t know who to turn to, so when they receive information from a reputable source, that can make the biggest difference.”
AANP is proud to have trained more than 100 members to become Shot@Life Champions. To become a Champion, just complete a simple online training session and join the online Champion Community. “AANP also sponsors a select number of members each year to attend the annual Champion Summit, which is a great way for new Champions to jumpstart their advocacy efforts,” adds Dr. Gray.
“With Shot@Life, you learn an immense amount about health policy and global health, but what’s important is getting out there and making a difference.”
As a Shot@Life partner, AANP encourages all health care providers to learn more about how to increase vaccine awareness and disseminate information about how deadly vaccine-preventable diseases can be. Together, we can help ensure all children have access to life-saving vaccines.
Consider becoming a Shot@Life Champion to educate your community, advocate for continued funding for global childhood immunization programs and meet other Champions from all states and a variety of professional backgrounds.