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Use education to improve immunization rates
Education is key to improving immunization rates. National Infant Immunization Week, which occurs in April, and National Immunization Month in August are key times in which local media and other resources are used to call special attention to the importance of immunization.
National Infant Immunization Week
One of the objectives of National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) is to provide a forum to pitch news stories, provide a media hook to interest local media in developing feature stories on the importance of childhood immunization, and create opportunities for local media interviews with immunization experts, says Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The next weeklong health observance is scheduled for April 24-30, 2005, and it is much more than a media event. "When we first began 11 years ago, our original intent was to make a media event, but now it has grown much beyond that and encompasses many other objectives. Part of that is to increase awareness among providers and partners," says Allen.
One goal is to encourage better communication between parents and their health care provider about their children’s vaccination needs. It is the provider’s responsibility to inform parents about immunization and listen to their concerns as well as answer their questions and provide information on immunization, he adds. Physicians should consider every office visit an opportunity to vaccinate and talk with parents about immunizations, Allen says.
And parents should also take the initiative and ask the provider at each visit if their children’s immunizations are up to date. "It is a partnership between parents and providers, and each have a certain responsibility," he explains. One of NIIW’s successes has been an increase in immunization awareness within the political and business communities. This is extremely important because it takes an entire community to immunize a child — not just the provider and parent, according to Allen. Partnerships are very valuable, especially when trying to educate people in hard to reach areas, he says.
National Immunization Awareness Month
It is a constant challenge to make sure that vaccines among children are up to date, says David Neumann, PhD, executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization in Alexandria, VA. Although immunization rates among children are around 90%, they begin to drop off across the age span. For example, immunization rates among adolescents are around 50%, according to Neumann. To help keep childhood immunization rates up and increase vaccines across the lifespan, the National Partnership for Immunization named August National Immunization Awareness Month.
"We selected August because that gives us an opportunity to take advantage of people getting their kids ready for school entry where they face quite a number of immunization requirements. Also, it is a good time to remind adolescents, especially those getting ready for college, that there are certain immunizations that are appropriate for them," says Neumann. In addition, it is not too early to remind people about the importance of influenza immunization, he adds.
Many teens are not fully immunized against measles, and it is also important for them to be up to date on the chicken pox or varicella vaccine as well as hepatitis B, says Neumann. College students are often asked to have a meningococcal vaccine, especially if they are living in a dormitory.
While stronger attention is being given to influenza immunization, adults who work in health care and educational settings should get a hepatitis B vaccine, and in some communities the hepatitis A vaccine is recommended. Tetanus-diphtheria boosters are required every 10 years. And while there are few cases seen today in the United States, tetanus is a very debilitating disease, says Neumann.
National observances are a good way to call attention to the importance of immunization across the lifespan, he stresses.
For more information about national observances and innovative outreach ideas, contact:
• National Infant Immunization Week National Immunization Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road N.E., MS E-o5, Atlanta, GA 30333. Telephone: (800) 232-2522. Web site: www.cdc.gov/nip/events/niiw/
• National Immunization Awareness Month National Partnership for Immunization, 121 N. Washington St., Suite 300, Alexandria, VA 22314. Telephone: (703) 836-6110. Web site: www.partnersforimmunization.org/