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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Aaron Sherinian, vice president of communications for United Nations Foundation, speaks during a panel discussion in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, July 11, 2012, hosted by United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life Campaign.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns' reputation for humanitarian generosity brought the United Nations Foundation to Salt Lake City on Wednesday for the Western U.S. introduction of its "Shot@Life" campaign, the aim of which is to spread the word globally that "timely vaccination is one of the simplest and most effective ways to give every child a healthy shot at life."

At a luncheon Wednesday at the Discovery Gateway Children's Museum, a panel of five advocates — including former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett and a representative of the LDS Church Humanitarian Services — discussed the urgency and power of vaccination, noting that immunization saves 2.5 million child lives each year, despite the fact that one in five children around the world lacks access to life-saving vaccines.

"It is really no coincidence that we're in Utah; this is deliberate," said campaign director Devi Ramachandran Thomas, who since last year has been preparing for Shot@Life, which launched a few weeks ago in Atlanta.

"We're here because we know we have a very, very welcoming group of people," Thomas said.

Bennett is a co-chairman of the campaign because of his service in the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

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Fred Riley, manager of special projects for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Services, said the church since 2003 has donated $15.9 million to the U.N. Foundation and its partners for immunizations.

But he said a more important contribution by the church is organizing people locally to get the word out that the immunizations are going to happen and to help them understand the importance of the immunizations.

About 61,000 volunteers from the church have donated 784,000 hours of service in 35 countries since 2003, Riley noted. He said one of the goals of the church's efforts is to help communities sustain their own health care systems once in place.

Email: rscott@desnews.com