This piece by Bill Gates, Sr. was originally published on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, one of the worst polio epidemics in history was tearing through the United States. When my daughter was born, I was excited to be a new father, but I was also terrorized by visions of my newborn daughter confined by an iron lung, so much so that I didn’t let her drink from water fountains, or go for a swim.
But then, when she was two years old, the world’s first polio vaccine was released. In just a few short years, the disease virtually disappeared from our country. As a new father, I was more than relieved. Being able to vaccinate my children meant that they would have the chance to live healthy, productive lives.
To put it simply, vaccines work. Vaccines give children a healthy start in life and to build more prosperous, communities. And nowhere is that more evident than in Honduras.
I just returned from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where I went to help celebrate the launch of a very special event. World Immunization Week is the first global campaign led by the WHO to unite all countries in a push towards vaccination.
Personally, I could not have been happier to be celebrating a global effort to promote vaccination in a country that is such a model for success. Honduras is one of the most impoverished countries of this hemisphere. The country faces numerous economic and development challenges, yet it boasts among the world’s highest rates of vaccination: almost 98%. That’s a rate higher than the US and the United Kingdom.
The theme of this year’s inaugural World Immunization Week was “Vaccines are an Act of Love.” Vaccines prevent nearly 3 million deaths each year. For me, that is the best proof that they are an act of love. And as a father, I’ve actually experienced first-hand how big an act of love they actually are.
Honduras is showing the world how a strong and committed government can lead to lasting improvements for the health of its children. Honduras is showing the world that where there is dedication and passion, children can be given a chance to thrive. Honduras is showing that no matter the challenges a country faces, it can still use vaccines to deliver great impact for all its citizens.
At San Felipe Hospital, in the heart of Tegucigalpa, I was able to administer polio and rotavirus vaccine on a newborn baby. In many ways it made me feel like a hero. Mostly though, it reminded me of the relief I felt when I was able to give my own children vaccines. It was both comforting and empowering to know that the little baby I met, even for a brief moment, would be forever changed. And much of that is because he was lucky enough to be born in a country that is doing so much for its people, a country that is a global leader in immunization.
Honduras’ approach to immunization is delivering real results for children there. And through its efforts, it is proving again and again, that vaccines are an act of love. For that, I would like to extend to all Hondurans a heartfelt “Gracias.”
Bill Gates Sr. guides the vision and strategic direction of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and serves as an advocate for the foundation’s key issues.