This is a thank you letter to someone I’ve never met
His name was James Phipps, and in 1796 when he was just 8 years old, Edward Jenner gave him the first modern vaccine.
This vaccine defended him against smallpox. It was inspired by centuries of innovation by
the physicians of North Africa, the grandmothers of Constantinople and the doctors of Ming
Dynasty China, all seeking ways to protect the next generation from sickness and death.
That’s a quest I know well. I work at UNICEF, and for 75 years we’ve been the world’s
largest procurer of vaccines, responsible for immunising 45 per cent of children on Earth. But
once upon a time, I was a child too, and there’s a good chance that I, like many of the kids we work with, wouldn’t be here today without vaccines.
So, this is a letter from me, and from all of us here at UNICEF, on behalf of every child who is alive today because of vaccines.
Because we want to say thank you to everyone who’s made that possible.
Thank you, to virologist Jonas Salk for the vaccine against polio. Thank you, Kati Karikó
whose life’s work on mRNA helped us fight COVID-19. Thank you, to Nobel Prize winner
Max Theiler whose team fed mosquitoes their own blood to create the vaccine against yellow fever.
Thank you to the workers who fill vials at factories. Thank you to the designers who make
the solar fridges that keep them cool. Thank you to the boat crews, pilots and drivers who
brave flooded rivers in monsoon season, or trek for miles in the snow, to bring babies their
very first dose.
Thank you to the camels of Pakistan who carried the vaccines in last year’s two-week sprint
to vaccinate more than 90 million children against measles and rubella. Thank you to the
doctors and nurses who give needles with a funny voice so it doesn’t hurt too much. And
thank you to Elvis Presley, who in 1956 had his vaccine moments before going on stage to
spread the word about polio, because that’s what kings do.
It’s also a thank you to ‘days of tranquillity’, when UNICEF arranges ceasefires to vaccinate
children in conflict zones; to Jim Grant, the Executive Director of UNICEF who in the 1980s
helped raise the global childhood vaccination rate from 20 per cent to 80 per cent, and to the
World Health Organization, who in 1966 launched the Essential Programme on Immunization and in just 11 years, wiped smallpox from the face of the Earth.
Every year, vaccines save the lives of up to 3 million children. But there are still some kids
who miss out. As we invest to recover from the pandemic, we have a once-in-a-generation
opportunity to build health systems that reach every child. So this is a thank you letter to our
leaders in government – the ones who take health care seriously – because the only way
we’ve got this far, and the only way we’ll get further, is by investing in healthcare for all.
Now there’s just one person left to thank: you. Because if you’ve ever been vaccinated, or
have had your children vaccinated, then you are part of the chain of linked arms that keeps
every one of us safe. You are the living proof of what humanity can do through dedication,
cooperation and love. So from all of us here at UNICEF, and from every child who is alive
because of vaccines, thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Let’s secure a #LongLifeForAll