This Brazilian Supermodel Bonded With Mothers In India For An Important Cause

Part 4 of our "World Immunization Week" series

April 24-30 is World Immunization Week and we at A Plus are proud to present a five-part series that celebrates the incredible impact vaccines have had on global health.

Most people know Isabeli Fontana as the gorgeous Brazilian supermodel who has been the face of some of the biggest names in fashion, including Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Versace, and countless others. But Fontana is more than just a pretty face in the pages of Victoria's Secret or Vogue, she's a mother who is dedicated to keeping her children healthy through the use of vaccines. This dedication led her to become an international advocate for vaccines and helping mothers around the world protect their children as well. 

Fontana's journey to advocacy happened by chance when she was taking her son to get his booster shot. It was there that she met representatives from Rotary International, who asked her if she'd like to become an ambassador. Because vaccines were important to her as a mother, she decided to give it a shot. Though she had always been in favor of vaccines in general, she was about to get an education about polio that would be completely life-changing. 

This ambassadorship with Rotary took her to India, where she helped administer the oral polio vaccine to children, spoke with people in the communities, and toured hospitals that treated people who injured by polio. Polio was no longer an abstract concept; the undeniable effects of the disease were right in front of her.

Isabeli Fontana giving the oral polio vaccine during an ambassador trip to India for Rotary International.
Isabeli Fontana giving the oral polio vaccine during an ambassador trip to India for Rotary International. JEAN-MARC GIBOUX FOR ROTARY INTERNATIONAL 

"It was very deep for me to go to the hospital and see people who had polio," Fontana told A Plus. "I cried all the time. I was facing the problem. It is very serious."

Though polio has been eradicated in India, the disease is still endemic in neighboring Pakistan. If vaccination rates in India don't remain high, the disease could make a resurgence. 

Fontana admits that the reality she saw while on the trip is quite unlike her day-to-day life as one of the world's fashion elites. Yet, during her trip to India, she met women who were very much like her in the most important sense: mothers who wanted nothing more than to keep their children safe.

She said there was one woman in particular who made a deep impression on her. Though she showed up with her children to receive the polio drops, she refused to leave until the children received immunizations against a number of other diseases as well.

"She was really concerned because she knows the place that she lives in," Fontana recalled. "She knew she needed to get all of the shots done before she left."

Isabeli indicating the world is "this close" to eradicating polio, thanks to the efforts of Rotary International and its partners. 
Isabeli indicating the world is "this close" to eradicating polio, thanks to the efforts of Rotary International and its partners.  JEAN-MARC GIBOUX FOR ROTARY INTERNATIONAL

Like many of the parents Fontana met while in India, she views vaccines as a no-brainer and has no interest in debating with the idea of opposing vaccines.

"Kids deserve to be happy and healthy. I don't know what to say. I have children and I am very concerned about that," she stated emphatically. "Of course, everyone wants to be natural, but the thing is, this is very serious. This is not just, 'Oh well, I don't believe in vaccination, so I'm not going to immunize my children.'" 

Fontana knows first hand that it is truly a small world and disease can spread easily when given the chance. Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014, bringing soccer fans from all over the world right to her doorstep. Because the country eradicated polio in 1989, it was unsettling for health officials to discover that a tourist from Africa carried the poliovirus to Brazil.

Thankfully it didn't spread, but the summer Olympics hosted in Rio this year could threaten the health of tourists and citizens of Brazil if vaccination rates are not kept high.

"It's something that can come back if we're not careful," she cautioned. 

Isabeli meeting a patient who has been affected by polio during her ambassador trip to Delhi, India.
Isabeli meeting a patient who has been affected by polio during her ambassador trip to Delhi, India. JEAN-MARC GIBOUX FOR ROTARY INTERNATIONAL

Moving forward, Fontana plans to continue using her voice as an ambassador for Rotary and give every mother on the planet the opportunity to protect their own children from infectious disease.

"If something happens to your children [because of disease], nothing can repair the problem. Everyone's children deserve to be healthy in this world. We all need to do our best for our children so we can live healthy," she stated.

Join Isabeli Fontana's fight to eradicate polio by donating to Rotary International here. For every dollar that comes in, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will donate $2, which triples the power of the contribution. 

Check out our entire World Immunization Week series:

Part 1: Vaccines 101: Everything You Need To Know About Our Greatest Medical Marvel