Opening Statements

Alaskan Judge Joins Immunization Effort in India

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If you happen to see children in the northern Indian state of Haryana with a touch of dye on their pinkie fingers and smiley face stickers on their shirts, chances are Michael I. Jeffery was involved.

In February, the superior court judge made the trek from Barrow, Alaska–where he presides over the northernmost court in the United States–to the plains of India.

There he took part in a massive polio vaccination campaign coordinated in part by the World Health Organization and Rotary International (Jeffery is a Rotary member). Jeffery’s primary role was to help local health workers. The goal was to track down all the children in the region who were younger than 5, put a couple of drops of the vaccine in their mouths and mark their fingers to show they had been vaccinated.

The standout moment for Jeffery was his first vaccination.

“It was an infant,” he recalls. “Someone was holding him as I gave him the vaccine with a tiny eyedropper, and I was so overcome by what I had done.”

What he had done, of course, was give that baby a fighting chance against a crippling disease that afflicted more than 600 Indian children last year.

Yet what may have mattered more to the children who were vaccinated by Jeffery’s team was what they got at the end of the process a–cool sticker printed with a smiley face or a “you’re great!” slogan that Jeffery had brought from home.

Jeffery may be back on the bench in Barrow, but he hasn’t forgotten the children he met. In fact, the children so loved the stickers that the health workers asked Jeffery to send more. He and his wife recently bought every sticker for sale at two Wal-Mart stores, and they were able to send a box to India filled with some 63,000 of them to be used in upcoming vaccination events.

“The point is, we were part of this amazing effort,” Jeffery says. “The trip really meant a lot, and I don’t think any of us will ever forget it.”

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