Over the past few years, the vaccine controversy has continued to simmer. First it was Hollywood , and now it’s in Washington. Many of us in medicine chuckled at the press that starlets were getting from the potential damages that vaccines can do. Although crowds listened to their stories, there was always the caveat of ‘well, they do rely on Dr. Google, so we’ll take it with a grain of salt’. But when potential presidents, no less potential presidents who are physicians, voiced their vaccine vacillations, ears perked up. We as physicians had to step up even more, and we could no longer blame it on ignorance or entitlement.
What feels like a universe away from Hollywood and Washington are places like rural Peru. Are they voicing vaccine vacillation? I think not. Families are walking miles to get their babies vaccinated. They want their progeny to survive the first year of life, and hopefully make it past age five. I came across a project called Alma Sana (meaning ‘healthy soul’ in Spanish). www.almasanaproject.org/about. Maybe because it was a Cornell (my alma mater) student that peaked my interest. Maybe because it was a young woman with a world vision that struck me. Maybe it was because the method of vaccine recording was so simple, brilliant, and usable that struck me. Or maybe because there was no controversy involved. It was solely the interest of the health and survival of a growing population.
I can get a pdf of my kids’ immunization records at the touch of a button. Do I remember the schedule of my 8-year-old’s 30 immunizations he’s already had? Of course not. I bring him in for check-ups, and he gets his shots on schedule. But what if i didn’t know when to bring my kids in? Especially in the first year of life, when immunizations are given at 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 months? Let’s say that i brought them to a different facility each time, or that a given facility had no record of which vaccines they’ve already received, and which they need at that visit? Let’s say I was handed a slip of paper at each visit, listing what they received, but between my thirty-mile journey and my rural mountain life, I misplaced the paper? www.almasanaproject.org/the-problem/
Here’s the beauty of Alma Sana’s project. You know those plastic bracelets? The ones that were first yellow ‘Livestrong’, but have now come to represent any and every cause, catchy phrase, or even sports team? Now babies in rural Peru received baby-sized plastic bracelets (well, actually anklets), with markings designating each vaccine,and at what age they need to be received. www.almasanaproject.org/our-approach/ When a baby receives a shot, a small hole punch is made at that particular vaccine symbol, so the next health care provider knows that that one has been given. Parents can also see when their child needs be brought in to receive their next round of shots.
In a short time, this population has already seen remarkable increase in vaccine administration, simply because families now have a usable method of knowing when to be seen. In time, this method will extend to other countries needing methods other than google, pdf’s, pretty faces, and potential presidents telling us when and why to protect our children.