Saving Lives with a Poke

Betty (Flanagan) Bumpers was born in 1925 in Arkansas. She was an elementary school teacher with three children. She met her husband, Dale, in high school in 1949. Dale was a lawyer who later got into politics.

When Dale Bumpers was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1970, Betty was shocked to find that Arkansas had one of the lowest childhood immunization rates of any state in the nation. She launched a statewide initiative, called Every Child by 74, to encourage vaccinations. Building a coalition of health groups, education groups, churches, and the National Guard, Arkansas achieved one of the highest vaccination rates of any state by 1974. The Center for Disease Control adopted her program in other states.

When Jimmy Carter became President, only 17 states had required immunization programs for school children. Working with the First Lady, Rosalyn Carter, the first federal initiative for immunizations was launched. In just two years, every state required immunizations.

When a measles epidemic killed 200 children in 1989-91, Betty and Rosalyn created a new program called Every Child by Two to encourage all children to be immunized by the age of two. The success of the program led to 90% of children being vaccinated.

Betty’s success in advocacy then led to similar efforts to focus on how we think about such topics as peace, national security, cultural diversity, citizenship, and prevention of violence. She passed away at the age of 93 leaving a legacy of successful advocacy for a better world.

Hidden heroes can often be overshadowed by their spouses. In Betty’s case, she used her position as the Governor’s wife to achieve a public health success that is largely forgotten today. She and Rosalyn Carter have saved countless lives through their advocacy for childhood immunizations.

                                                                                    * * *

            “Vaccines save lives; fear endangers them. It’s a simple message parents need to keep hearing.”– Jeffrey Kluger (Author)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.