August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) and offers physicians a reminder to educate patients about the importance of vaccines.
After the infant years, vaccination can sometimes take a backseat to the many other issues handled within a primary care practice. Ian Branam, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this is why the annual observance was created—to highlight the importance of vaccination throughout the lifespan.
“National Immunization Awareness Month was established to encourage people of all ages to make sure they are up to date on the vaccines recommended for them,” Branam told Medical Economics. “Communities have continued to use the month of August each year to raise awareness about the important role vaccines play in preventing serious, sometimes deadly, diseases.”
Immunizations represent one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century, said Branam. According to CDC, more than 21,000 cases of smallpox were reported in 1900; and nearly 500,000 cases of measles, almost 150,000 cases of diphtheria and over 100,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the 1920s. More than 26,000 Americans died from these diseases at these times alone. Since 1900, vaccines have been developed or licensed against more than 20 diseases, and previously fatal diseases like smallpox and poliomyelitis have been eradicated or nearly eliminated through vaccination. Other diseases like measles and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) have been reduced to a record low number of cases through childhood vaccination programs, according to CDC.
The power of physician recommendations
While there have been anti-vaccination movements in recent years that have led to a resurgence in diseases like measles, clinician recommendation remains a strong predictor of vaccination for a patient.
“We encourage clinicians to give a strong recommendation for the vaccines their patients need and to take the opportunity to assess their patient’s vaccination status at every visit,” Branam said. “We also encourage physicians to talk with their colleagues and office staff about the importance of ensuring clear, consistent communication about vaccines and making sure that patients are receiving all the recommended vaccines.”
There are many resources to help clinicians observe NIAM, which is sponsored by the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC). NPHIC, along with CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, has developed communication toolkits for every stage of life for. Each toolkit focuses on messages and interventions unique to different age group, with sample illustrations, handouts, and even social media messages.