Two FIU medical students, one joint New Year’s resolution that could save millions of lives

Losing weight. Quitting smoking. Saving money. These are among the most popular New Year’s resolutions. But Elise Gershman and Michael O’Laughlin, second year medical students at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, share a much more ambitious, less self-centered resolution. They want to help save the lives of millions of children who die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. However, there’s a catch. They’re going to need your help. Read on to find out how to join their resolution.

Elise Gershman giving flu shots in Peru in 2014

Elise Gershman giving flu shots in Peru in 2014

“I taught English and health in Thailand last year, and I know some of my pupils have passed away,” said Gershman who at 23 is already a veteran of medical volunteer trips to Southeast Asia, Peru, Kenya, Honduras and Belize.

Every year, 6.3 million children in developing countries die before the age of five – according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public health partnership established in 2000 to increase access to vaccines to the world’s poorest children. Partners include developing countries, donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the vaccine industry, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other philanthropists.

Girls playing at Thai orphanage where Gershman taught health in 2013

Girls playing at Thai orphanage where Gershman taught health in 2013

According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea, pneumonia, and measles are leading causes of death for children in low-income countries. Rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children, pneumococcal pneumonia, and measles can all be prevented by safe, effective and inexpensive vaccines.

“There’s no doubt that vaccination has a huge impact on lives,” said O’Laughlin, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. He remembers a trip to Cambodia in 2008 during which a flock of children ran up to his volunteer group trying to sell souvenirs. The tour guide commented how in only a decade after the introduction of vaccines, infant mortality rates had dropped sharply. And yet today, Gavi reports that one out of 15 children in Cambodia still dies due to lack of access to vaccines.

Michael O'Laughlin with Guatemalan boy during medical volunteer trip

Michael O’Laughlin with Guatemalan boy during medical volunteer trip

That’s why when Gershman got involved with Gavi this past August, she enlisted O’Laughlin, a classmate and fellow co-president of the American Medical Student Association at the HWCOM. Together they have joined Gavi’s awareness and fundraising campaign, which seeks to immunize 300 million more children by 2020.

The Vaccine Alliance hopes to raise $7.5 billion for the initiative. Its fourth biggest donor has been the United States, but the two medical students think America needs to do more.

“We want the United States to pledge 1 billion dollars over the next four years to support the Gavi initiative to fund vaccines globally,” said Gershman.

“We need our fellow students, their parents, friends, family members to call the White House and urge President Obama to commit to the 1 billion dollar pledge in January 2015,” said O’Laughlin, “We need everyone who has a phone to join us and call.”

Gives a new meaning to the term joint resolution.

For information on how to make the call, visit