Growing up in the Republic of Guinea and now working in global health, Mariam Bahova has a unique perspective on what access to vaccines means to individuals, communities, and the world. She is a Shot@Life advocate – a trained grassroots advocate – who advocates for vaccine equity both in person on Capitol Hill and digitally on Twitter. Additionally, she raises funds to help make sure children have a shot at life. Read more about her, her advocacy work, and her advice for advocates below.
One of my first memories of vaccines was when I was around 10 years old. I remember all of us being pulled out of school to receive our polio drops. I didn’t really know what it was, at the time, but I have an uncle who is paralyzed from polio. I recall being told that we were doing this so we would not be paralyzed.
When I came to the United States and saw that there was something called vaccine hesitancy, I could not understand it. Where I grew up, if there were vaccines available, we would take them. There were—and still are— kids dying of rotavirus and vaccine-preventable disease. We did not get the same opportunities to receive the vaccines as American children. There was no equity. I get emotional because I know what it means to not have that opportunity.
Seeing the inequity in my country is why I did my MPH (Master of Public Health) and worked in global health. I wanted to focus on immunization equity. That’s why Shot@Life was a no brainer – if we can get the child at the last mile, why shouldn’t we do it?
I met a woman who was a Champion [a trained grassroots vaccine advocate] at an event. I was telling her how I was working toward my Master of Public Health degree at The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. I shared that I was interested in global health in general. More specifically, I was fascinated by all that vaccines can do. She shared her advocacy work with Shot@Life, and I was like, “Oh my God, what is that?” She sent me the link, and I got so excited thinking, “I get to do this, I get to be an advocate for vaccines.” It fell in my lap, but it was also fate. It was meant to be.
I signed up in 2017, and I attended my first summit in 2018. I met people at that first summit that I am still friends with, and I have followed their work with Shot@Life and their other advocacy work.
Hill Day is a highlight of it all. I’ve gotten to meet Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown three or four times, and that’s a thrill. He used to host a regular coffee with constituents, and I met him then. I also had a Shot@Life Hill Day meeting with him. When I was launching into why vaccines for all is the right thing to do, he interrupted and said, “You don’t need to convince me. I’m on your side. I understand what we’re fighting for, and you have an ally in me.”
My advocacy work is primarily focused on social media and meetings. Social media has a lot of impact. It doesn’t take much time, and it’s amazing that you can push a button and reach out to your senators and friends at the same time. I have been retweeted by my officials, so I know that’s a way to make my voice heard. I enjoy the meetings. I also appreciate that I’ve gotten to form relationships with his staffers, and now they recognize me.
I have also done some fundraising for Shot@Life in the past. I have sent emails to friends explaining what Shot@Life is and ask that they donate instead of buying me gifts. They do donate, and they learn about Shot@Life, too.
You may not feel like you see the results, but what we do matters. It really does. It’s not hard work, but it is meaningful work. Keep passing on the word. The more we are heard, the more impact we have. Share Shot@Life and the message that vaccine equity matters with the people you know. Ask them to share it, too.
Want to join Mariam and others working to improve vaccine equity and global health? Learn more about how to get involved here.