How do you get a Congress member to support funding for international child vaccinations? As much as that sounds like the start of a bad joke, last month several BYU College of Nursing faculty and students were taught that the best way is to just go to his or her office and convince them yourself. Then they did it.
Associate professor Dr. Beth Luthy, assistant professor Dr. Janelle Macintosh, assistant teaching professor Gaye Ray, and assistant teaching professor Lacey Eden were joined by graduate students Sarah Davis, Morgan Bateman, Chelsea Schult, and Katie Hill for the trip, organized by Shot@Life.
“[Shot@Life] is part of UNICEF and the goal for Shot @Life is to maintain funding for global immunizations so they work with UNICEF to provide that funding,” Eden explains.
The organization, which is part of the United Nations Foundation, selects and trains established vaccine advocates (labelled “champions”) on how to lobby for international child vaccination funding.
“We had the opportunity to learn how to do it last year, and it was very obvious that we needed to bring students to have this same experience since you can’t match it,” Eden says.
The professors announced the opportunity to the graduate students, and many had their interest piqued. Four students filled out the rigorous application and were accepted to the program.
“For me, I think it seemed like the perfect mix of policy and global health and seeing how the two meet together, and that just really fascinates me,” Bateman explained. Other students had participated with Luthy in a meeting of the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines in December, which laid the groundwork for their interest in the Shot@Life event.
The conference, which was held February 11-14, started with a day of training on effective lobbying. Professional lobbyists and representatives from groups like the World Health Organization offered instruction in the art of the elevator pitch and winning over policymakers.
“They just said to speak to what your representatives are interested or passionate about,” Hill says. “Coming from Utah, we were encouraged to go for the global safety/safety of the United States because there is so much travel back and forth that just because we’re helping people in other countries doesn’t mean that it isn’t beneficial to the United States.”
“Another thing I was impressed with was they told us to make it personal so that when you go and meet with these people you show your passion, you show why you traveled across the country for this cause,” Bateman says.
This passion was also combined with numbers to make the argument stronger.
“They trained us on specific talking points,” Davis says. “It was not only why are we involved and why are we passionate about immunizations globally, but also gave us the tools to use the facts.”
“We talked about the cost effectiveness of international vaccines, and how for every dollar spent on a childhood vaccine is like a $44 savings for the US in the long run,” Hill says.
“They had people from the top lobbying firms come,” Luthy says. “Your whole day prior to ‘Hill Day’ is all preparation and then you have ‘Hill Day’ which is all day.”
“Hill Day” is when the students and faculty are sent to visit different congressional representatives and lobby them to support vaccinations. The process requires that students and faculty step out of their comfort zones and interact with politicians and staffers.
“Shot@Life actually sets up appointments with different congressmen and they take a group of us and we just walk around the capital and go to the different offices,” Eden says.
As they went about their lobbying rounds, the students were surprised by how much of a difference they felt they could make as they visited different offices.
“It was really awesome,” Hill says. “I don’t think I had any idea how much your representatives actually care about what their constituents think.”
“What surprised me is that for the most part our representatives and our senators are accessible,” Bateman says. “You may not be meeting with the senator or the congressperson themselves, but someone is there that you can meet with. I think that that’s what America is all about—it’s making your government officials accessible.”
One of the trip’s highlights was a personal meeting the students and faculty had with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. He expressed his support for Shot@Life’s goals, and the students were able to ask him about lessons he had learned from serving so long in Congress.
Overall, students came away from the experience with a stronger appreciation for their own capabilities to bring about change as citizens.
“I think it was an empowering experience,” Luthy says.
“I think a lot of them developed a passion for advocacy and that they could actually make a difference and learn how to get involved,” Eden says. “Being out here in Utah you feel like you can’t do anything about what’s going on in Washington D.C., but to be actually be out there and see that show that there’s potential.”
“Going forward, it encourages me to be more involved in issues that I feel strongly about whether they’re global health type things or they’re issues impacting Utah families right here within our own state as well as policy issues for increased practice for nurse practitioners, anything like that,” Davis says. “I feel like I want to have more of a voice because I see that you really can make a difference.”
“This experience showed to me that you don’t have to be in Africa, you don’t have to be in Southeast Asia to make a difference,” Bateman says. “It doesn’t have to be this grand thing—you can do things here in your own country, here in your own state to make an impact on global health.”
Now that the students are returned, they have the opportunity to continue their advocacy work. Shot@Life, Luthy explains, expects students to follow-up on the meetings they had in Washington D.C. and remain involved in promoting childhood vaccination funding.
“It’s fun to go to this summit and get all fired up and meet with lots of other people, but the work continues throughout the year to make sure that we are raising awareness for vaccines and the importance of global vaccines,” Hill says.