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AdvocacyJuly 16, 2013

Felisa Hilbert Champion Interview

By, Jenni Lee

Meet Felisa Hilbert, a Champion for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign, which was launched in 2012 to help the UN expand access to lifesaving vaccines for children in developing countries.  Champions dedicate their voices and time to help protect children from preventable diseases, such as measles, pneumonia, polio, and rotavirus.

Hilbert, who lives with her family in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, was born and raised in Mexico, where she worked as nurse in rural and underprivileged communities.  In that job, she saw many children suffer from diseases that could have been prevented by vaccines.  That experience drives her work as a global vaccine advocate.  I recently had the opportunity to talk to Hilbert about her involvement with Shot@Life.

Jenni Lee: Why are you passionate about expanding access to vaccines for children around the world?

Felisa Hilbert: As a former nurse, I saw firsthand what a lack of vaccines does to children.  I saw the scars. I saw kids dying.  I saw the agony in mothers’ eyes as they watched their children suffer from diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines – diseases like polio, diarrhea, measles, and tetanus.  I remember feeling so powerless because I was not able to help them.

After connecting with Shot@Life, I realized that I can help make sure that I will not see another mom lose a child to something that can be so easily prevented.  I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that more children live.

I feel like I am on a mission to do everything I can to educate people, to create awareness, and to raise money so that moms don’t lose their children because they don’t have access to vaccines.

JL: What have you learned as a Shot@Life Champion? Can you describe your experience?

FH: It has been an incredible journey.  Shot@Life gives power and a bigger audience to my voice.  I have learned more about how to use media and social networks.  I have always been an advocate, but I’ve learned from Shot@Life how to write to my congressman and to reach out to newspapers. Because of Shot@Life I have developed the skills and learned the information necessary to advocate for vaccines on a global scale.

JL: Over the past two decades, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of children dying under the age of 5.  Are you optimistic that we can make more progress?  What will it take to save even more lives?

FH: I am optimistic we can make more progress.  It will take moms and educators, writers and bloggers, celebrities and legislators, lawmakers and community leaders working together to create a movement.   It will take more awareness, more personal connections, more news, and increased education about vaccines here in the United States.  And it will take more of us becoming champions, getting active, and using our talents and voices to share the message that every child around the globe deserves a shot at a life free of preventable childhood diseases.

JL: Why should other people care about this issue and how can they get involved?

FH:  We’re talking about a child dying every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease.  I think that this is an issue every one of us needs to care about.  We are connected and live in a global society.  Nothing is more excruciating than watching a child suffer, especially when we know how to prevent that suffering.

It’s very easy to get involved.  All it takes is five minutes to post a blog, to donate to the cause, to read more about vaccines, and I can go on and on.  You don’t have to do big events and raise $500,000, but if you just talk to one mom and tell parents about what you have seen and learned, that will make a difference.

Education is the first thing.  We need to educate moms here in the United States, and we need to make sure that we create awareness and empathy for others.  We have a responsibility as human beings to help each other.