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Nurse Practitioners Give Children a Shot@Life

Shot at Life Reenu M Varghese

Learn more about the campaign to make vaccination access a reality for kids everywhere.

Launched in 2012 by the United Nations Foundation, Shot@Life is a campaign dedicated to promoting awareness of the lifesaving power of vaccines and pushing for government investment to bring vaccine access to children across the world. This working goal toward “#VaccinesForAll,” has shown progress — since 2012, $5.7 billion has been invested by the U.S. government in global vaccine programs — and one crucial source of support for increasing access to childhood vaccinations are Shot@Life Champions.

Shot@Life Champions are volunteers who contact legislators to raise awareness of the importance for childhood vaccinations; engage in training sessions; and, if available, attend a Champion Summit in Washington D.C., “where they gain in-depth information on current health news, sharpen their advocacy skills and meet with members of Congress on Capitol Hill.”

Over 1,990 individuals were trained to become Shot@Life Champions in 2023. The Champions are “our strongest supports across the United States,” explains the Shot@Life foundation. They are “individuals who are dedicating their voice, time and support to stand up for children in developing countries.”

Nurse practitioners (NPs) have volunteered to become Shot@Life Champions since the inception of the campaign, and the American Association for Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) has been proud to showcase the efforts of these NPs over the years. In 2023, AANP interviewed Beth Luty, DNP, FNP-C, FAAN, FAANP, about her decision to volunteer. “The work Shot@Life does saves lives,” she said. “When I think of the mothers in the world who are still living the nightmare of begging and praying for a way to protect their babies from illness, I can’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of a system that brings them life-saving vaccines.” Read on to hear from an NP and 2024 Shot@Life Champion about the importance of childhood vaccinations.

From NP to Champion

One of 2024’s Shot@Life Champions is Reenu Varghese, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, who is based in the Houston, Texas, area. As an NP, Varghese has a professional understanding of the importance of childhood vaccinations, but her decision to become a Shot@Life Champion also had a personal component. “I truly believe in childhood vaccinations,” she says. “My mom’s twin sister has polio. She’s living with polio — she’s paralyzed and cannot walk, and that has tremendously affected her quality of life. The reason she got polio is because she did not get the polio vaccine when she was a child.

“My grandfather was in the military, so he left for the war in 1961 or grandmother had all these children, and my auntie was taken care of by some other relatives of hers. But that relative was in a more rural part of the country, in India. My mom and her other siblings are all vaccinated and none of them had polio. So, when my grandmother was still living, I asked her, “How come only auntie has polio?” And she said, “The people who were taking care of auntie at that time did not vaccinate her.” From that point onward, I was like, ‘Oh my god, childhood vaccines are so important and prevent a lot of deadly diseases.’”

Varghese was able to put her passion for childhood vaccination into action when she first encountered representatives of the Shot@Life campaign in person. “I was at an AANP conference [AANP Annual Health Policy Conference] a few years back, and I met with the Shot@Life coordinator, Rebecca Maxie,” explains Varghese. “I attended her presentation. She was there to present about vaccinations and about Shot@Life, and I took her card — I still have her card in my bag — and I contacted her, and she mailed me some information.

“They recruit nurses — not just nurses — but people who are interested in promoting vaccination advocacy in the community. [Shot@Life] trains them to become Champions by providing these meetings and emails and modules, and then every year they have a summit. This was the first summit in which I participated, and it was an awesome experience.”

Varghese says her favorite part of the summit was visiting representatives on Capitol Hill. “We met with [senatorial] office staff, and we had a one-on-one conversation with them. We explained to them the importance of providing childhood vaccination — like giving access to childhood vaccination to children all over the globe.”

As a Champion, Varghese was also given the opportunity to use cutting-edge technology to ground her in the work Shot@Life does overseas. “We were able to participate in a virtual reality polio campaign, which happened in Zambia,” she recalls. “There were like ten conference participants — we were seated on a chair, and we had those virtual reality sets. In the sets, they showed us the way they distributed vaccines in Zambia. And that actually opened my eyes. For us, in the United States, it’s so easy for us to go get vaccines, but in most of the underdeveloped countries it is very difficult for a child to even get a vaccine. Sometimes they don’t have clinics nearby, sometimes there is a lack of vaccinations. There are so many barriers that children and their families face.”

The awareness of vaccine disparities throughout the world resonated with Varghese, and the summit strengthened her belief that she was making a difference through her work. “Every effort counts. Like, I never thought that I would be so productive. When those senators’ office staff sat there and listened to me, I was like, ‘Wow, am I making a difference?’” And they were so keen when I told them about my aunt’s condition with polio. Like, I’m a nobody — I’m just a primary care NP. But I feel like even those little efforts that you make, even if you are just one-on-one talking to your patients about the importance of getting your children vaccinated, it counts. If you can save one life, you know, it’s a big deal. Even if you save one life, that counts, right?” Her attitude is reflected in a quote by Massachusetts writer and minister, Edward Everett Hale, that she finds continually inspiring: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

Hear More About Shot@Life While Earning CE Credit

Shot@Life has just launched their Advocate to Vaccinate Campaign to protect vaccine progress around the world. If you are interested in learning more about Shot@Life while earning continuing education (CE) credit, the activity Shot@Life — Using Your Voice to Protect Global Childhood Immunization Programs is available until August 31, 2024 and offers 0.95 contact hours of CE credit. Featuring the director of grassroots advocacy for the United Nations Foundation, Rebecca Maxie, this session includes information from global health organizations and focuses on how the NP can assist in childhood global vaccination programs and more. Below, browse other courses in the AANP CE Center related to vaccines, immunization and global health.

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