In honor of back-to-school season, Katie Lesser of Florida shares her journey to becoming a Shot@Life Champion, in the hope of inspiring others to get involved in global health and vaccine advocacy in their campus communities.
My name is Katie Lesser, and I am a current Shot@Life Champion from Florida. Right now, I am finishing up my Master of Public Health degree with concentrations in Epidemiology and Global Communicable Disease from the University of South Florida (Go Bulls!), where I also hold a Graduate Certificate in Infection Control.
I realized in high school that infectious diseases were something I was fascinated by and wanted to learn more about. I started college as a microbiology major and then realized that I preferred public health as my field of study, and I began following the 2014 Disneyland measles outbreak and became passionate about vaccines. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on immunization policies at accredited Florida colleges and universities, and I realized that I wanted to continue using my voice to advocate for the importance of vaccines.
I got an email through our student listserv about the opportunity to apply to attend the 2018 Shot@Life Champion Summit, and I knew I absolutely needed to apply. I figured that this would be a good chance for me to network and learn more about how I could champion the message of vaccine advocacy and make legitimate change in the world. After a semi-impatient few months of waiting, I got an email that I was selected to attend! I was super excited to take part in something so important and meet other people passionate about vaccine access.
The 2018 Champion Summit was incredible, and I knew that I needed to apply again for 2019. I got the opportunity to once again represent the state of Florida on Capitol Hill advocating for childhood vaccines, and I had even more fun the second time around. My favorite advocacy memories would definitely be from the 2019 Summit, as we secured THREE member-level meetings along with some accidental member-level run-ins in the House cafeteria. Spending time at the 2019 Summit with my fellow Florida champions is something I’ll never forget!
Being a Shot@Life Champion has helped me improve my advocacy skills, and my involvement the past two years has helped me obtain a position in the USF College of Public Health Activist Lab Student Advisory Board. We’re currently focusing on two very important public health topics—gun violence and immunizations! The Activist Lab advisor, Dr. Karen Liller, recently worked with the University of Pittsburgh to develop the FRED Measles Florida simulator, a model that depicts what would happen throughout Florida if vaccination coverage rates fell below the current rates. We’re using our activist lab mission to work with Hillsborough County to provide vaccine resources to the public and bring in expert speakers for seminar series to champion vaccines.
I am also currently a Brand Ambassador for GIANTMicrobes, where I showcase different products on my social media channels. I have been using many of their vaccine-preventable disease products to advocate for vaccines and to further Shot@Life’s mission to provide lifesaving childhood vaccines around the world.
I am passionate about public health communication and advocating for all forms of public health, but vaccines are definitely my favorite issue area. I love being a Shot@Life Champion, and I can’t wait for the 2020 Summit!”