Why Gabrielle Union Really Wants You to Call Your Kids’ Doctor
The biggest health issue on most of our minds for the past year and a half has, of course, been the COVID-19 pandemic. But our singular focus on the coronavirus caused many of us to deprioritize other crucial aspects of our health care, including preventive care. That’s why Gabrielle Union is calling attention to those important doctor visits you may have missed—and she’s encouraging parents especially to make kids’ routine vaccinations a priority now.
Union first realized how serious the issue of delayed doctor visits was when she heard about it firsthand from loved ones. “Talking to family members who have had real medical issues come up during the pandemic, who did not seek health care—that was the first huge red flag,” she tells SELF.
Estimates vary, but in 2020 to 2021, public-sector vaccine orders fell 14% overall from 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; measles vaccine orders are down by more than 20%. The CDC warns that if rates don’t pick up quickly enough, we could see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, as kids return to school in the fall.
Union was relieved to hear from her family’s pediatrician that her kids hadn’t missed anything. But “once we got the facts about the dramatic drop in vaccinations in school-aged children…we knew that we had to do something,” Union says. She and her husband, Dwyane Wade, are using their platform to spotlight the growing public health threat with the Don’t Skip campaign.
Created in partnership with pharmaceutical company Merck and the nonprofit Vaccinate Your Families, the campaign reminds families to stay current or catch up on vaccines and well-child visits that may have been delayed during the pandemic. The campaign’s PSA series is a family affair: One of the spots stars 14-year-old Zaya Wade alongside her parents, and another features 2-year-old Kaavia. The campaign also has a site (dontskipvaccines.com) that compiles a bunch of helpful resources and links in one place.
“The beauty of this campaign,” Gabrielle Union says, is that “it comes from a very loving place. It’s a fun, sweet, tongue-in-cheek campaign that gently nudges parents to get back in touch with their doctors.” The Don’t Skip campaign also reflects Union’s personal approach to conversations about health care with her family—gently reminding, providing facts, and problem-solving. “I like to be a part of solution-based thinking. And part of the solution is these reminders,” Union says.
The actor knows firsthand that reminding or persuading the people you love to take care of themselves can be a tough conversation; health can be a sensitive topic, and people generally don’t respond well to being nagged or guilted. “I’m not going to say that I wasn’t much more heavy-handed in the past,” Union admits. “But my family members weren’t acting quickly when I would browbeat them about health care and seeing the doctor and getting your checkups and doing blood work.” She continues, “I wasn’t getting results.”
Today, Union takes a gentler approach. “I like to give the facts, give a nudge, gently lead, and offer solutions,” she says. “‘Hey, I know, we’re thinking about a thousand and one things, but are you up to date? Are your children up to date? Let’s just make sure.’” She’ll also be prepared with solutions to potential excuses or barriers to access, whether that’s transportation, finding a doctor, covering the cost of the visit, or offering to go with them. “Like, ‘Oh you don’t have a ride? I’ll get you a ride,’” Union explains.
Taking a similar tack of sharing knowledge and offering help, Don’t Skip connects people with resources that may help them mount some of the most common barriers to health care access, like cost or simply not understanding how the complex and confusing medical system can work for you. (For instance, Vaccinate Your Family’s page on affording vaccines has info on mandatory insurance coverage and the federally funded Vaccines for Children program.) The campaign also directs people who have questions or hesitancy about vaccinations to Vaccinate Your Family, which has a ton of easy-to-understand information on vaccine science and research, including vaccine ingredients, how they work, and their safety and benefits.
If the idea of figuring out how to play catch-up sounds scary or overwhelming—to you or a loved one—Union says to remember that “step one is just reaching out, finding out your vaccination status, and going from there.” Your pediatrician will be very glad to hear from you and can let you know if your family is up-to-date on vaccines, well-child visits, and any other routine care. (For help making that call, Don’t Skip has a checklist of questions you can run through to cover all the bases.)
The sooner we get more kids back on schedule, the sooner we can all feel a little safer. “With school opening back up and everyone traveling over the summer, let’s just make sure that we’re prioritizing our children’s health,” Union says. “I know we skipped a lot of things in 2020 and 2021. But this is one of those things that we just can’t skip.”
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