The very best goalkeepers impose a feeling of total serenity. It’s not just about the YouTube compilations of fingertip saves, superhuman leaps, and occasional spaghetti legs. Calmness inspires confidence.
Liverpool’s Alisson Becker — the Brazilian crowned by FIFA as the Best Men's Goalkeeper in 2019 — has mastered this art of total chill. But alongside his wife, Dr. Natália Becker, he’s been applying the same principles to some unlikely issues, something that, now more than ever, requires a robust defence: vaccines.
The Beckers’ have just joined a campaign to stand up for vaccines as advocates for the World Health Organisation (WHO), a United Nations subsidiary that helps build health systems around the globe.
Earlier this year, the WHO named vaccine hesitancy — meaning the reluctance to immunise children despite availability — as one of the biggest global health risks facing the human race. It identified lack of confidence as one of the biggest drivers of this hesitation. It’s an issue that needs a new champion.
“I am used to saving goals but there are some other saves that really matter: live-saving vaccines,” Alisson tweeted in July. “Proud to have vaccinated my kids to keep them safe from diseases like measles, polio, [and] meningitis.”
Close to 20 million children worldwide still do not have the chance to get vaccinated, leaving them at risk of severe disease. That's far too many.— Alisson Becker (@Alissonbecker) July 23, 2019
I am supporting @WHO in their lifesaving work to ensure more kids in more countries are protected through #vaccines#VaccinesWorkpic.twitter.com/2sogeK4Pka
Disinformation rages online about vaccines. Since the disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield claimed, without evidence, that there was a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, dangerous myths have spiralled out of control across social media. Tackling such false claims with the truth is a challenge that the Becker’s are keen to face head on.
“Nowadays people take information from everywhere," Dr. Becker said in an interview with WHO in Manchester. "We can be a safe place to take this kind of information."
"As a doctor, as a mum, as a person, I believe we all wish for a better world," she added. "I think it starts with good health."
"Because of football, a lot of people are looking to me," Alisson said in the same interview. "We have a lot of children following players, dressing like players, using the same haircut like players. Why don't we also do things for the kids to follow? This is one of our goals as World Health Organisation ambassadors: to help children, to help families make the healthiest life."
Above all, the Beckers have one crucial message: vaccines work.
It’s something the world really needs to hear, as there have been some heartbreaking vaccination setbacks in 2019.
As parents, @Alissonbecker and I will do everything we can to keep our kids safe, and that includes getting them vaccinated.— Dr. Natalia Loewe Becker (@DrNataliaBecker) July 17, 2019
We are proud to support @WHO and the #VaccinesWork campaign.
Join us: Get your children vaccinated! pic.twitter.com/jg6S1h7yGN
Three years ago, Britain proudly announced that it had eliminated measles for the first time in its history. But in August, it officially lost its measles-free status after vaccination coverage dropped and hundreds of cases spread throughout the country.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson blamed it on a spread of misleading information about vaccines permeating social media at the time — and announced that the NHS would do more to deconstruct anti-vaxx myths online.
There’s also been an increase in the number of polio cases in Pakistan this year — one of two countries where the disease is still endemic. Meanwhile, two more policemen were murdered there on Wednesday in a targeted attack on a vaccination drive team, bringing the tally of those killed up to at least 97 since 2012, according to Al Jazeera. There is no cure for polio — a virus that can cause death and lifelong disabilities — and it can only be prevented with vaccinations.
But there is hope. Polio is 99.9% eradicated worldwide — and next year, a historic summit will take place in the UK that could define a generation of global vaccination efforts.
Everyone knows @AlissonBecker can save pretty much anything. But have @LFC fans heard how he's working with his partner @DrNataliaBecker to save lives too? @Jameshh__ went to Anfield to find out. Learn more and take action here: https://t.co/Q66pLDp0Ji#VaccinesWork@WHO#UKAidpic.twitter.com/avnN8KX4Kd— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) December 19, 2019
World leaders will arrive in Britain in 2020 for the third replenishment conference — a summit that seeks to encourage investment from donors — for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an organisation that has had saving lives through vaccination efforts as its core mission for the last two decades. It’s achieved some remarkable results, but it desperately needs more funding.
Since its creation in 2000, Gavi has saved an estimated 13 million lives by vaccinating more than 700 million children — equivalent to immunising every living person born in the Middle East and Africa over the last 18 years. In that time, it has also boosted vaccine coverage from 60% to 80% in the countries that it supports.
It’s through Gavi that Britain is helping vaccinate 76 million kids between 2016 and 2020, saving 1.4 million lives. It does this with its UK aid budget: the money spent mostly by the Department of International Development (DfID) to help end extreme poverty around the world.
We love the Beckers’ call to action because vaccines are so important in the fight to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN’s 17 objectives to end extreme poverty and stop the climate crisis by 2030.
That’s why we’re running a campaign urging the new UK government to support Gavi with the necessary funding to immunise 300 million more children and save millions more lives by 2025. It’s an opportunity for Britain to lead the world on global health, and we can’t turn our backs.
O melhor presente que podemos dar a nossos filhos nessas férias é saúde - imunize seus filhos contra sarampo e outras doenças evitáveis por vacinas porque vacinas funcionam. @who . . The best present we can give our children these holidays is the gift of health - be sure to immunize your children against measles & other vaccine-preventable diseases because #VaccinesWork
Football and vaccines might seem like an odd pairing. But the truth is that both are rooted in the idea of community.
"If we can build a better world for the next generations, we will try to do that," Alisson told WHO. “We start with our family, and then we go for our communities, and then we go for our cities, and then we go for our country, and then we go for the world. This is our goal.”
In May 1956, Birmingham right-back Jeff Hall played in the club’s only FA Cup final. Less than two years later, he died of polio at age 29. It was a tragic, transformative moment. Before his death in 1958, only 5% of British people in their twenties had been inoculated. Three years later, 63% had received the polio vaccine. The community grew into a movement.
Global Citizen visited Birmingham earlier this year to talk to fans about Hall’s enduring legacy — and in the buildup to Liverpool’s thrilling 5-5 draw with Arsenal on October 30, we went to Anfield to talk to fans about how the Beckers’ vaccination efforts have gone down in the stands. The short answer: they’re seen as local heroes. You can watch the whole video here.
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death,” legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said. “I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."