Vaccinate California: improving public health by increasing immunization rates.

What if children and families no longer had to fear catching preventable diseases at school from unvaccinated peers?

Photo of Leah Russin
18 16

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

During 2014 and 2015, pertussis and measles rolled across California while my son was still an infant. I worked with other concerned parents to enact legislation strengthening California's immunization laws. We now want to turn to facilitating successful implementation of the law, supporting parents in their decisions to immunize their children, and fostering a culture that embraces preventative health care for the public good.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Palo Alto; fiscal sponsor is based in Sacramento.

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

State-wide, with outreach to state-based groups outside California as well as national organizations.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

People that refuse to vaccinate their children tend to be high income, educated, and white. They love their children fiercely, and get their parenting ideas from other families in their community. Unvaccinated children thus cluster together, creating pockets of vulnerability to preventable disease that can cause outbreaks that then spread to medically fragile children, infants, and other at risk groups.

Vaccination rates tend to wane as the prevalence of the diseases they prevent diminishes.  Thus we have seen cycles of disease outbreak followed by spikes in vaccination rates as parents race to protect their children from the sickness filling the headlines.  High vaccination rates push the disease incidence down, but then vaccination rates decline as the public memory of the illness fades. We seek to stop that cycle by speaking parent-to-parent to encourage immunization. 

As parents, we are able to effectively reinforce the messages conveyed by medical professionals in a more compelling way.  Social science shows that parents do not respond to debates or ridicule, get their parenting ideas from other parents, and have a wide variety of reasons for refusing vaccines. We listen. We discuss fears and risks with compassion, and educate families about the benefits of vaccination to each individual child and that child's community. 

Using both traditional organizing and new media tools, we seek to improve public health through better understanding of and access to preventative health care measures by leveraging our membership of concerned parents and partnerships with health care professionals. Children will grow up without fear of preventable disease, and understand the benefits of vaccinates as a public health good to which they each contribute.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

We cultivate a culture that values immunization as a public health good. Parents come to us for support in their decision to vaccinate to help them convince vaccine-hesitant friends or family members to protect their children. Medical professionals partner with us to understand what works in the clinician's office and to communicate effectively with parents questioning whether to vaccinate. Public health advocates in other states seek our advice on whether and how to establish a parents' advocacy group in their communities to effect change. Policy makers hear us as credible parent representatives in California on immunization and public health. Teens and children are empowered to understand and embrace the benefits of immunization.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2015, Vaccinate California sponsored and was a key part of a coalition that secured enactment of CA SB277, which ensured that all day care, preschool, and school children who are medically able to receive the protection of vaccines are up-to-date on all their immunizations. We built a membership of over 22,000 people who actively supported our work on social media and called and wrote their legislators in support of vaccines, and established partnerships with many organizations in public health and education. We now will leverage those connections to cement public support for vaccinating and ensure that vaccines never again become the victim of their own success.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have secured a fiscal sponsor and are working to secure foundation funding as well as private donations.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are many groups working on the problem of low vaccinate rates, but almost all speak as medical health or public health professionals, and most focus primarily on barriers to health care for disadvantaged communities. Few focus on eliminating vaccine resistance in privileged families. There are a few other parent advocacy groups, but none are based in California, and none have the leveraged social media and traditional organizing tools with the effectiveness we have achieved. While we succeeded in strengthening our immunizations requirements, efforts in multiple other states failed.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Social media has enabled people to find other like-minded individuals to reinforce their particular point of view. Allowing anti-vaccination groups to flourish on Facebook and to spread misinformation via Twitter without an effective counter voice jeopardizes the public health with very real consequences. The 2014-15 Disneyland measles outbreak has been blamed on low vaccination rates. To prevent that from happening again, individuals must be empowered to advocate for public health on social media and create a culture that values immunization as a protection for communities and individuals.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Bethany Henderson

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 40%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 40%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 20%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 20%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 0%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 40%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 40%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 40%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 20%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 20%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 20%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 20%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 20%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 20%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 40%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 33.3%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 33.3%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 66.7%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 33.3%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Leah Russin

Thanks everyone!  We are excited to continue our work!

Photo of Michael Auerbach

Extremely well-written submission. Clearly a leader in the vaccination space. Keep it up!

Photo of Amy Kapp

Vaccinate California is one of the most effective agents for change that I have ever seen. I hope that RWJ sees the impact you have already made and all the good work you could continue to do with its funding. 

Photo of Jacques Corriveau

As a pediatrician, I've seen the damage that vaccine preventable diseases can cause, the suffering they can inflict on children.  I'm so very thankful for the effective advocacy of Vaccinate California to pass SB 277 to protect my patients and my own children.  As the difficult process of implementation of SB 277 moves forward, I'm glad to have Vaccinate California working hard to ensure SB 277 is implemented effectively.

Photo of Andrew Goldenkranz

I work in public schools with students and adults, some of whom cannot be vaccinated for valid medical reasons.  When people deliberately don't vaccinate their kids, they expose the whole class to risk.  The passage of the law is the beginning of the process; implementation will take a community effort and Vaccinate California is the best suited agency to bring this forward.

Photo of Amy Alfieri

Such important work!  Thank you Vaccinate California!

Photo of Leah Russin

Thank you!  

Photo of Alyssa Homen

Vaccinate California is a huge part of why SB 277 passed, and has been an asset to our community (CA). My immunocompromised dad, my family, and myself are so worried my dad could catch a preventible disease. Yes, he's been vaccinated, but he had a liver transplant and has to take medication that wiped out his immune system. Thank you Leah and all the volunteers with Vaccinate CA for your hard work! 

Photo of Leah Russin

Your story is one of the many many reasons we feel we need to keep working.  Thank you for all your help!

Photo of Erin Richardson

Happy to have joined and will continue to do my part!

Photo of Leah Russin

Thank you!  Lots of work still to do, and we are so grateful for all your work!

Photo of Grace

This would be an amazing program  to implement into our community. I have nothing but appreciation and respect for Vaccinate California. As others have mentioned, they were instrumental in the passing of SB277, which will help to protect our community from preventable diseases. 

Photo of Leah Russin

thank you!  We are excited about the next chapter and building on our work.

Photo of Amy K

My older daughter was a preemie, and I spent her earliest months in abject terror of the smallest diseases. It was isolating and depressing, especially given that the NICU had been so warm and convivial. I found it so hard to believe that others would willfully put their and my children at risk on the basis of total junk science. 

More recently, I became involved in the passing of SB277, which I felt strongly about because we had a child at our preschool who was going through treatment for leukemia and whose situation was made more dangerous because we live in a low-vaccination area (white, wealthy, privileged). Being part of this effort has absolutely spurred me to take action on other legislation, to be more involved with my children's school and to lend my support to grass-roots efforts in many areas. 

I thank Vaccinate California for being a voice of reason and for inspiring parents to speak out in support of science. 

Photo of Leah Russin

Thank you for your help!  And we look forward to doing more!

Photo of Brittany Lothe

Leah Russin - on behalf of mamas and papas of  immune and respiratory comprised kiddos across Cali, THANK YOU to you and your team. As you refine your submission consider modifying the example with a real world kiddo who benefited or until the law passed, their educational experience was hindered. If I recall you had some great young champions alongside the team in Sacramento last year. Keep up the good fight and if Scott or I can be of assistance let me know! Email is 

Photo of Leah Russin

Thank you!  We will definitely be in touch!  We are expanding our scope from supporting the bill through enactment to starting the conversation with vaccine-hesitant communities and supporting successful implementation of the new law. We definitely have examples of children who's educational opportunities were limited by low vaccination rates at their schools, and we can certainly showcase them.  I look forward to talking with you further.

Photo of Brittany Lothe

All in. Look forward to connecting!