World Immunization Week Envisions a Long Life for All

By Sallyann Price posted 04-28-2022 15:21

This week is World Immunization Week (24–30 April), which the World Health Organization and other partners celebrate annually to highlight the importance of vaccines and how they protect people of all ages against preventable diseases.

This year’s theme is “Long Life for All: In pursuit of a life well-lived.”In the years before the coronavirus pandemic and the race to invent and administer the COVID-19 vaccine to the masses, World Immunization Week tended to focus more on childhood diseases that were once common, like polio and measles.

Before the pandemic hit, it was hard for me to understand the fear these illnesses struck into the hearts of American parents before vaccines were widely available.

Here are some books and media featuring infectious diseases and attempts to counter them that have helped shape my understanding of why ongoing immunization matters:

  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987 book). Though we usually think of polio as affecting children, in this title the wife of Stegner’s narrator—a writer and literature professor—contracts polio while camping near a contaminated lake, and the couple learns to adapt.
  • The Polio Crusade” installment of American Experience on PBS (June 2021). Based in part on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky, this one-hour documentary features interviews with historians, scientists, polio survivors, and the only surviving scientist from the core research team that developed the Salk vaccine.
  • No Exit,” The West Wing season 5, episode 20 (2004). Upon returning from the White House Correspondents’ dinner, staffers find themselves locked down in the West Wing and facing the threat of airborne contagion. This episode is a great look at how we respond to airborne viruses and use the vaccine and other tools to combat them.
  • Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All by Paul Offit (2010). Offit is a pediatrician and outspoken advocate for childhood vaccines. Here he explores how preventable childhood illnesses like measles and whooping cough have cropped up amid the anti-vaccine movement that predates COVID-19.

As we move through the next phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, I find it helps to remember that humanity has been faced with infectious diseases and insurmountable challenges before, and in the face of those challenges people have organized resources and pushed for mass vaccination.

The widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines now was hard to imagine back in early 2020, when everything seemed hopeless and scary.

This hopeful message particularly resonates as we celebrate World Immunization Week 2022, encouraging folks to get their COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to stamp out the virus and promote long, healthy lives.

Visit the World Immunization Week website to learn how you can be an advocate for vaccines in your community. Unicef has also put together a guide called “How to talk to your friends and family about COVID-19 vaccines.”

Have you talked with your friends, family, or colleagues about vaccinations? How has that gone? What’s worked, and what’s been challenging?