In recent weeks we have heard from experts, citizens and organizations from all around the world about the importance of vaccines. It is a critical issue: Vaccine-preventable diseases result in 1.5 million deaths each year and account for a third of all childhood deaths.

Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in the year 2000 – but now we are again facing outbreaks and tough choices about vaccine exemptions because unvaccinated Americans are traveling overseas and bringing the disease back with them, contributing to outbreaks. Hospitalizations and serious complications from vaccine-preventable diseases are sharply on the rise. It is more important than ever to contain these threats before they reach our shores.

By far the easiest and most economical way of containing these threats is by supporting international vaccine programs. Ensuring that every child under 5 has access to vaccines is one of the less obvious ways vaccines keep our own population safe: Healthy countries are stable countries that are less likely to foster terrorism.

Disease outbreaks disrupt national economies, jeopardizing international trade and investment opportunities. It wasn’t long ago that South Korea was on the receiving end of foreign aid; now they’re one of our strongest trading partners.

As we enter World Immunization Week, I hope everyone statewide will join me in calling upon our congressional delegation to prioritize funding for global vaccine programs. We all have a responsibility to keep our population healthy and ensure that every child has a shot at a healthy life.

Ashley Daigle