Vaccines save children’s lives and we need to fund them
Compassion is the natural expression of vital faith. But the true measure of authentic compassion is not only good intentions, but good results — not only feelings of personal satisfaction, but meeting high standards.
As two southern pastors from different denominations with different political leanings, one thing we fervently agree on is that this type of compassion is rare enough that it deserves praise and support wherever we find it — and that it has been a hallmark of U.S. leadership around the world.
During these tense political times, our compassion and generosity for the world’s poorest are often questioned. Still, we are glad that it remains an essential part of U.S. foreign policy and our efforts to create stability and security around the world. But this is not just about charity; it is about creating a better future for the world’s poorest. And that begins by giving children a shot at life.
Since 2000, Gavi, a global vaccine alliance, has led routine immunization programs and vaccination campaigns in developing countries, bringing rays of hope to millions. We have been blessed in America to have our children receive access to life-saving vaccines at the earliest points of their lives. For us, polio, cholera, and typhoid may sound like diseases of the past, but they are still a threat to millions of children around the world.
Over the past two decades, Gavi has helped vaccinate more than 760 million children against those diseases and many others like pneumonia and measles. Now the organization faces a new threat — one that is not a disease, but rather a lack of funding.
This year, Gavi needs countries around the world to recommit to funding their efforts. The organization is seeking to raise at least $7.4 billion from international donors and the private sector so it can save up to 8 million lives while vaccinating 300 million children.
If you want to understand Gavi’s transformative impact, look at what’s happening right now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that is facing not one, but two major global health threats: an Ebola outbreak that was declared a public health emergency last summer and a measles outbreak that has killed 6,000 people.
Gavi not only works to fight the diseases we have vaccines for but drives the funding to help create groundbreaking new vaccines, in this case, for the world’s first Ebola vaccine, which is helping contain the outbreak. Gavi also launched a massive campaign to vaccinate young children from measles and cholera — two diseases that have claimed even more lives than Ebola in DRC. International health organizations are conducting some of these vaccination drives, but many are done by churches and faith-based ministries, doing the work of God in the farthest corners of the Earth.
For years, leaders in both parties in Congress have worked together to support Gavi because it is one of the most effective and efficient global health organizations on the planet. The results speak for themselves — 13 million lives saved. However, the progress we have made in the worldwide fight against preventable disease is as fragile as it is remarkable.
Vaccination rates have plateaued against many diseases as the people who get vaccinated last are often the hardest ones to reach. A myriad of factors from vaccine hesitancy to supply chain breakdowns, especially in rural areas, have kept stubborn diseases like polio alive. These challenges, as daunting as they may be, shouldn’t discourage us from quitting, they should encourage us to push forward, full speed ahead.
When you vaccinate a child, you don’t just protect them from illness, you improve their education outcomes and allow their families and communities to grow and thrive. As a result, parents and caregivers spend less time caring for sick children and more time working and generating income.
Every child — no matter whether they are born in Savannah or Dar es Salaam — deserves to lead a healthy and productive life. After all, a healthier, less impoverished planet is better for everyone. And we can do it.
At no time in human history have we had more tools to prevent children from getting sick than we do right now. And yet the heartbreaking paradox is that every single day, 1,600 children of God still die from vaccine-preventable diseases. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We are thankful that the budget President Trump proposed this month included full funding for Gavi. Now Congress has the opportunity to demonstrate the power of U.S. leadership and compassion in the fight against preventable disease by allowing initiatives, like Gavi, to expand their current strategy and help millions of children access life-saving vaccines.
In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us: “The King will reply… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We have a duty to ensure that children and families can lead healthy lives. By continuing America’s full commitment to Gavi, we will.
Ashley Randall is the Pastor of the Garden City United Methodist Church in Savannah, Ga. David Allgire is the Executive Pastor of Campuses at Compassion Christian Church in Southern Georgia.