This is the first in an occasional series about the everyday vaccine heroes of Texas. These aren’t the politicians or researchers or the authors of books. Rather, their personal experiences have made them deeply aware of the need to protect the public from vaccine-preventable diseases. Everyday vaccine heroes reach out beyond those personal situations to improve the health of the entire state.
Unlike many other people who become everyday vaccine heroes, Jinny Suh hasn’t had close experience with a loved one who was sickened by a vaccine-preventable disease or someone who is especially vulnerable to outbreaks of disease. She was a lawyer and South Austin mom with one – now two – healthy little boys, whom she kept healthy by making sure they had all of their recommended vaccines.
It had never occurred to her that there was any disagreement over such an obvious way to keep people healthy, until she had her first son, now 5 years old. Her second son was born a year ago.
“I first became interested when I became a mom, joining mommy groups and finding out that there were people in Texas who weren’t vaccinating,” Suh said. “I am from the generation that accepted vaccinations as just something that you did. It was really shocking to me that this was a trend that I was witnessing in front of my eyes. It was hard to understand where people were coming from.”
Suh intuitively understood that battling with people on social media wasn’t going to change many minds. She decided on a more positive approach.
“I decided I would post pro-vaccine articles on my own Facebook page and see what happens. Just one article after another. I had friends come up and say, ‘I saw what you posted, that’s totally awesome.’ For me, it’s fascinating that for other people, their feelings are the total opposite.”
And then there are the vaccine-hesitant parents, people who are overwhelmed by conflicting and sometimes outright false information, and don’t know what to think. “Those are the people I have the most hope of persuading,” Suh said.
A college friend who noticed Suh’s efforts put her in contact with The Immunization Partnership. It was then that Suh’s vaccine-education hobby became a passion. With TIP, Suh created an affiliated organization, Immunize Texas, which provides the grassroots networking of parents and other community members to stand up for better health through vaccination.
Despite the growing numbers of Texas parents who file for non-medical exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children, Suh has plenty of support, even if most of it isn’t active or vocal. More than 95 percent of Texas parents vaccinate their children against such diseases as measles, mumps, whooping cough and chickenpox. The problem is that there are pockets of the state where immunization rates are much lower. If an outbreak occurs in one of those pockets, it can be dangerous to the entire community.
Suh has been busy building the numbers of pro-vaccine parents into an active team that spreads evidence-based information about vaccines and supports efforts to strengthen the state’s vaccine laws.
“Things have grown organically. At this point, we have more than 1,500 likes on our Facebook page. In our private group of supporters, we have 400 people. Then there are 20 to 30 people I consider daily activists, involved members.”
In addition to building a social-media presence around vaccination, Suh engages supporters through one-to-one conversations.
“I talk to a lot of people who are interested in helping,” she said. “I find out what their strengths are so that if I need someone who can do graphic design, for example, I know we have someone with that talent.”
People interested in volunteering are welcome to email Suh directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or to join the efforts of Immunize Texas at http://www.immunizetx.com/join-us.html.
Suh sees herself as a parent with a message for other parents. Together, she and they are the key to building community health through vaccination.
“I want to encourage people who know that vaccines are good, to let them know how important it is for them to speak up about it,” she said. “The time of sticking our heads in the sand is now over.
“We have seen an increase in non-medical exemptions every year, and there is no sign that it is slowing down or stopping. I strongly urge all pro-vaccine parents to do what they can to stop this trend.”
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