My Interview with Shot@Life Champion Polly Palumbo

Have you guys heard about Shot@Life

It’s a campaign by the United Nations Foundation with a pretty simple premise. Here is how they define themselves: 

“A movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed.”

This year at Blissdom I was able to talk with representatives of the campaign in depth to learn more about their efforts. Keeping children healthy is something close to my heart, so when I had the opportunity to participate I took it.

Shot@Life is celebrating their first birthday during World Immunization Week (April 24-30) and to help highlight their birthday, I had the chance to interview one of their Champions, Polly Palumbo.

When Polly first became aware of the Shot@Life campaign almost two years ago, they didn’t even have a name yet. At their first Shot@Life Summit a little more than a year ago, there were 50 Champions. Today they have more than 400 Champions and nearly 200,000 supporters.

Here is my conversation with Polly:

Why did you become involved with Shot@Life?
Polly Palumbo, Ph.D.

I write about kids now. There’s so much parenting advice and news out there and often it seems confusing or conflicting. One expert says kids need to drink more milk, another says kids drink too much. It’s easy to get irritated or conclude the experts don’t know anything. In fact, in my professional life I write about child research and I often tell people what the experts don’t know for sure or what it isn’t quite right about their advice or the latest study. But there is one thing we know for sure and that’s the value of childhood vaccines in the developing world. 

We know providing access to vaccines is the best, most cost-effective measures to improve, possibly even save the lives of kids. We have had the luxury of forgetting the value of vaccines since we’ve become so great at preventing childhood diseases here in the US, but most parents still understand the value of vaccines.  

What events have you participated in this past year to promote Shot@Life’s message and/or to raise money for Shot@Life?

What I love most about Shot@Life, other than the cause, is that it’s truly about people doing what moves them to help kids.  

I’ve written a lot at Momma Data and hosted a few events on my blog like a Fact a Day about vaccines, childhood diseases or anything else related to Shot@Life. I’ve co-hosted Twitter parties. We did a big Twitter party for the launch and I organized a pop quiz kind of contest. I like writing about data and research and I love debunking the myths — the mysteries and inaccuracies about children’s health — so that’s how I’ve often approached the mission. 

Over the last year I’ve also attended a variety of events, including fundraisers thrown by other champions, their creativity and devotion (and organization!) is amazing to behold. I’ve enjoyed going out and meeting people and speaking about Shot@Life at different organizations, like schools and women’s clubs, and on occasion advocated in the media. 

My kids hosted a fundraiser at their school and talked about the cause while raising a bit of money. They made green friendship bracelets and cupcakes. They’re planning some lemonade stands for the summer. I’m hosting a virtual tag sale later this spring and a family fundraiser where I hope to get everybody moving and grooving.  

Has there been an experience you’ve had with Shot@Life that has been particularly meaningful to you?

Wow. It’s hard to choose just one. Certainly going to Capitol Hill to share the Shot@Life story and meet with staff members in the offices of Senators and members of Congress was a memorable day. I was surprised by the reaction of the staffers – one young woman nearly broke down in tears when my friend Jennifer Burden, who runs the World Moms Blog, showed her photos of families she’d met in Nigeria during a vaccination clinic. The message we got from many people working in these offices was that they wish more people would show up, especially in their district offices, to tell them about their passions and causes. 

Another very powerful moment came thanks to a gathering of a couple hundred women in their seventies and eighties. Nearly every single one had been touched in some way by polio or measles. Nearly every hand was raised when I asked if they or someone close had experienced these diseases. What’s more, they wanted to share their stories, tell about their own battles or their brother’s or best friend’s, etc. They didn’t want anyone else to suffer. These weren’t diseases happening on the other side of the world. They were in their homes. Their memories of the suffering and the pain were still very clear and they were eager to help. That afternoon was a remarkable reminder of how illness don’t impact a single victim but entire families and communities for many decades.  

How has your involvement with Shot@Life affected you as a mother?

Great question. It’s easy to see how being a mom gets someone involved advocating for kids, but it’s not as obvious how advocating changes you as a parent. 

Personally I find helping kids who really need help, whose lives might not only be improved but saved, a balm in some sense. So many decisions or choices about my kids seem important in the moment but in comparison to the kids dying from measles or pneumonia, my worries about my kids are so minor. Knowing people struggle with these illnesses puts my own parenting concerns into perspective. It basically makes me sit back and reflect on the real risks in my children’s lives. It brings to mind that expression about not sweating the small stuff. 

Shot@Life often turns up in my conversations with my kids. We talk about why kids aren’t getting vaccinated, what it must be like to not be able to go to the doctor, the diseases themselves, the near end of polio, the fact that their grandfather had polio. My kindergartener understood when I first told him about it and just couldn’t figure out why kids weren’t getting help. He couldn’t get over why if the vaccines cost less than he had stuffed in his piggy bank they weren’t getting them. So he and his sisters keep me motivated. They want answers for why kids are still sick. They don’t want to just sit around so, yes, Shot@Life has come to our dinner table, schools, neighborhood, and other parts of our lives because my kids urged me to do something. They wanted to do something.  

What is the most important thing you want people to know when you talk to them about Shot@Life?

Anyone can help. It doesn’t take a gigantic gesture. Just sign up at the Shot@Life website.  Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. This is a grass-roots movement made of mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, nurses, doctors, accountants, college students, pharmacists, photographers, journalists, bloggers, artists, at least one cartographer, Republicans, Democrats, Independents – in other words, a diverse bunch of people with a common desire to see healthier kids. 

There’s a place here for everyone and we use our own unique talents or resources, whatever they might be, to help kids. Whether it’s writing a blog post, hosting a Twitter party, talking to the local paper, throwing a fabulous cocktail party or showing up at our Congressperson’s office.   

We are having this conversation to celebrate Shot@Life’s first birthday – do you have any favorite birthday traditions?

My family doesn’t have a lot birthday traditions in part I’d like to think because we have the luxury of having so many that no one birthday seems a huge deal. We do take a picture around the same kitchen table every year, the heart of our home. Keeping up with scrap books or photo albums has never been my strong point so when my oldest child turned ten I created a large mixed media self-portrait of her, a kind of 3-D scrapbook on canvas. I did the same for my second child and can’t wait to do it for my youngest in a few years, though he’s bargaining to have it sooner. 

What do you hope the future holds for Shot@Life?

In addition to healthier kids everywhere? Hhhmmm…a Ben and Jerry’s Shot@Life flavor would be yummy. 


Visit the Shot@Life website to find out how you can lend your voice to this movement.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this, Candy! I had the opportunity to interview Polly as my Champion too. It’s cool that we both learned different yet complementary things! Here’s my post: http://biggreenpen.com/2013/04/24/happy-1st-birthday-shotlife/