Rachael Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and Medical Economics.
This is a good time for practices to revisit vaccines and remind staff and patients about the importance of immunization education.
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.
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.
The toolkit offers CDC recommendations and resources for the immunizations needed for each stage of life, including:
• Babies and children: Vaccination14 diseases by age 2, and boosters between ages 4 and 6. These vaccines are required for daycare and school entry.
• Pre-teens and teens: Immunization with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine to protect against meningitis and septicemia; the HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by human papillomavirus; Tdap to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis; and annual flu vaccination.
• Adults: Annual vaccination against seasonal flu and one dose of Tdap if they did not receive it as a teen, then the Td booster every 10 years. Adults may also require vaccination against hepatitis A and B, HPV, and other diseases depending on their medical conditions, occupation, or travel practices.
• Pregnant women: Tdap vaccine for each pregnancy, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks.
• Older adults: Adults 60 years and older should receive the shingles vaccine, and those 65 and older are advised to receive one or more pneumococcal vaccines.
NPHIC has also designated each week of NIAM 2017 to particular audiences-babies and young children from July 31 to August 6; pregnant women from August 7 to 13; adult from August 14 to 20, and preteen/teens from August 21 to 27.
The goal is to help clinicians remind parents of the role they play in protecting their child’s health, to encourage college students to get the vaccines they need to enter school, and to educate adults-particularly older adults and those with chronic conditions-about the vaccines they may still need. NIAM is also a good opportunity to remind patients about the upcoming flu season and to plan for immunization, according to CDC.
In addition to the toolkits, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and state and local health departments also offer resources on immunization that can help clinicians disseminate information to patients and the public.