National Immunization Awareness Month: 3 ways we can increase immunization and combat the spread of preventable disease
August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) and it couldn’t come soon enough.
COVID cases are rising nationwide, with the largest increases in states where full vaccination rates are below the U.S. average of 49.2%.
However, equally important and troubling, there have been declining routine immunization rates for other standard vaccines that protect against diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tetanus, among other diseases, which are often prerequisites for school attendance – putting all of us, particularly children, at risk with the school year just around the corner.
To kick off National Immunization Awareness Month and discuss strategies for increasing immunizations for COVID and other diseases, BIO hosted a virtual Patient Advocacy event with experts:
- Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, MD, MPH, MPA, Founder and CEO, Grapevine Health
- Dr. Jessica Peck, DNP, APRN, CPNP-PC, CNE, CNL, FAANP, President, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
- Piper Largent, Director of Government Affairs, National Association of School Nurses
Here’s what they said about how we can work together to improve immunization rates.
- Local outreach to historically underserved communities must be prioritized to reduce vaccine hesitancy.
Confronting vaccine hesitancy is key to the success of NIAM.
“Health information, medicine, science, research, it’s very complex,” said Dr. Fitzpatrick – and more time must be taken to explain such concepts and developments to patients.
In addition, “there are historical reasons for mistrust” of the healthcare system by Black and Latinx communities, Dr. Fitzpatrick continued. The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” from 1932 to 1972 looms large in understanding historical reasons for mistrust as it was conducted without the participants’ informed consent, and participants with syphilis did not receive available treatments. Mistrust also stems from negative interactions with the healthcare system today as patients are often mistreated due to their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
Dr. Fitzpatrick explained that she participated in a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine because members of underserved communities told her they would take the vaccine if they saw other people in their community take it. The same holds true though for simply getting standard vaccines such as the flu vaccine, which many individuals in underserved communities still do not take out of mistrust of the healthcare system, she added. As Dr. Fitzpatrick recently explained on an episode of the I AM BIO Podcast, “the truth is, we have not made clinical trials accessible to these populations” and this needs to change.
- Encouraging annual checkups of pediatric patients and advocating that they keep up with their immunization schedule.
Dr. Peck spoke of how “routine vaccination rates have decreased 30 to 40%” during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will take “four to five years to catch those kids up” on their non-COVID-19 vaccinations, undoubtedly due to missed routine appointments with primary care physicians. CDC has designated the theme of “Get Back on Track with Routine Vaccines” for this year’s NIAM and encouraging pediatric patients and their families to keep routine checkups and to be up-to-date with their immunization schedule should be an important priority for patient advocates during NIAM. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the administration of routine vaccinations to pediatric patients. One example of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on routine vaccinations to pediatric patients is how from March–May 2020, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) doses administered to children aged 12–23 months and children aged 2–8 years declined a median of 22.4% and 63.1%, respectively.
Ultimately, the “nightmare scenario” from a pediatric medicine perspective would be a combined measles outbreak with the COVID-19 pandemic, due to people not getting vaccinated. To prevent that, this summer parents and guardians should ensure their children are on schedule with their routine immunizations. According to Largent, this will make the work of school nurses much easier at the start of the school year, which is just around the corner.
- Confront disinformation and stay informed.
Disinformation, which increases vaccine hesitancy, is nothing new. We can all do our part to actively combat disinformation.
Resources such as those from Stronger – a campaign to stop the spread of misinformation supported by BIO, The Public Good Projects, and Google – can go a long way in reducing the spread of disinformation.
As all three panelists explained, patient literacy is critical. There are many resources readily available to build more trust in immunization among patients and their families, including:
- COVID Vaccine Facts, BIO’s website that is meant to serve as an educational resource with evidence-based information on the vaccine development process and highlighting the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
- BIO videos produced with Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick of Grapevine Health, known for her “Dr. Lisa on the Street” video series, featuring interviews with real people about why they decided to get vaccinated and their views on clinical trials.
- Stronger, which has tools explaining how to identify and report vaccine misinformation.
Collaboration is key.
For immunization to increase and succeed, it is undoubtedly a team effort. Doctors, nurses, and community organizers can only do so much. It is up to each and every one of us to come together and get vaccinated, encourage our friends and family to get vaccinated, and continue to take all necessary precautions recommended by the CDC to help stop the spread of illnesses that can be better prevented through immunization.