Chelsea Clinton is on a mission to combat the small but vocal anti-vaccine movement, and it all started after an alarming encounter with a stranger.
Clinton, 41, the former first daughter and a health advocate who hosts the podcast In Fact with Chelsea Clinton, tells PEOPLE that she “really became aware of the anti-vaccine movement and industry in this country” back in 2014, when she was pregnant with her first child, daughter Charlotte.
Walking through Madison Square Park in New York City to meet a friend, a woman suddenly approached her.
“This woman came up to me and she said, ‘Are you Chelsea Clinton?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she grabbed my hand and she looked at me so intensely and she said, ‘Please tell me you’re not going to vaccinate your child.’ I was so taken aback. I said, ‘You know what, I am going to vaccinate my child. Of course, I’m going to vaccinate my child.’ ”
“And she then just launched into this [speech] that I was killing my child, it’s dangerous. She would hope I would have a different view,” Clinton continues. “And I was so taken aback by that experience that it prompted me to really start looking into how many people hold these views.”
Clinton researched and discovered how deeply sown these ideas are in pockets of the country.
“How is there such pervasive anti-vaccine sentiment? What is really behind this?” she says she asked herself. “… there really is an industry behind this. But I wasn’t very perceptive to that until I was an expectant mom and had this encounter. That really started me on this path of trying to combat vaccine misinformation and build confidence in vaccines and vaccinations.”
One of the ways Clinton, now a mom to three kids — Charlotte, 6, Aidan, 5, and Jasper, 2 — is fighting the anti-vaccine movement is with the panel discussion she and Sen. Amy Klobuchar hosted on Tuesday as part of the Clinton Global Initiative. The event featured a discussion with Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist, and Donna Crawford, director of the Healthy Schools and Communities Program at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
Clinton emphasizes that parents who are wondering if they should vaccinate their kids need to be “trusting science and scientists and listening to your local pediatrician.”
Klobuchar, whose husband was severely sick with COVID-19 last year, adds to PEOPLE that “We now have a president in the White House that’s going to tell you the truth. And the truth is that we know that vaccines save lives. And of course, kids, I hope, will soon be eligible for them.”
And Clinton says that many kids already understand the importance of vaccines.
“I would just point you to what the kids and the teenage vaccine advocates are saying to their peers. The content that they are creating, the content that they are amplifying, not just about COVID-19 vaccines, but around flu vaccines to beat flu season again. Around the meningitis vaccines, around the HPV vaccine, around the vaccines that teenagers should be getting as well as now getting vaccinated against COVID-19.”