How a mother started her own vaccine campaign to get rates up

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By Alex Olgin, WFAE

In 2017, Kim Nelson had just moved her family back to her hometown in South Carolina. Boxes were still scattered around the apartment, and while her two young daughters played, Nelson scrolled through a newspaper article on her phone. It said religious exemptions for vaccines had jumped nearly 70 percent in recent years in the Greenville area — where they had just moved from Florida.

She remembers yelling to her husband in the other room, “David, you have to get in here! I can’t believe this.”

Nelson didn’t know any mom friends that didn’t vaccinate their kids.

“It was really eye-opening that this was a big problem,” she said.

Nelson’s dad is a doctor; she had her immunizations, and so did her kids. But this news scared her. She knew that infants were vulnerable — they couldn’t get started on most vaccines until they were 2 months old. And some kids and adults have diseases that compromise their immune systems, which means they can’t get vaccines and rely on herd immunity. Nelson was already thinking about public health a lot back then, and was even considering a career switch, from banking to public health. She decided she had to do something.

“I very much believe if you have the ability to advocate then you have to,” she said. “The onus is on us if we want change.”

Like a lot of moms, Nelson had spent hours online. She knew how easy it was to fall down internet rabbit holes, into a world of fake studies and scary stories.

“As somebody who just cannot stand wrong things being on the internet,” Nelson said, “if I saw something with vaccines, I was very quick to chime in ‘That’s not true’ or ‘No, that’s not how that works.’ … I usually got banned.”