Action and awareness are needed to increase immunization rates


August was National Immunization Awareness Month. ... just in time to address the precipitous drop in immunization delivered during the early months of the pandemic.

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In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported substantial reductions in vaccine doses ordered through the Vaccines for Children program after the declaration of national emergency because of COVID-19 on March 13. Approximately 2.5 million fewer doses of routine, noninfluenza vaccines were administered between Jan. 6 and April 2020, compared with a similar period last year (MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020 May 15;69[19]:591-3). Declines in immunization rates were echoed by states and municipalities across the United States. Last month, the health system in which I work reported 40,000 children behind on at least one vaccine.

We all know that, when immunization rates drop, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases follow. In order to avert another public health crisis, we need action as well as awareness to catch up with childhood immunizations, and that is going to take more than a single month.

Identify patients who’ve missed vaccinations

Simply being open and ready to vaccinate is not enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges providers to identify patients who have missed vaccines, and call them to schedule in-person visits. Proactively let parents know about strategies implemented in your office to ensure a safe environment.

Pediatricians are accustomed to an influx of patients in the summer, as parents make sure their children have all of the vaccines required for school attendance. As noted in a Washington Post article from Aug. 4, 2020, schools have traditionally served as a backstop for immunization rates. But as many school districts opt to take education online this fall, the implications for vaccine requirements are unclear. District of Columbia public schools continue to require immunization for virtual school attendance, but it is not clear how easily this can be enforced. To read about how other school districts have chosen to address – or not address – immunization requirements for school, visit the the Immunization Action Coalition’s Repository of Resources for Maintaining Immunization during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The repository links to international, national, and state-level policies and guidance and advocacy materials, including talking points, webinars, press releases, media articles from around the United States and social media posts, as well as telehealth resources.

Get some inspiration to talk about vaccination

Need a little inspiration for talking to parents about vaccines? Check out the CDC’s #HowIRecommend video series. These are short videos, most under a minute in length, that explain the importance of vaccination, how to effectively address questions from parents about vaccine safety, and how clinicians routinely recommend same day vaccination to their patients. These videos are part of the CDC’s National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) toolkit for communication with health care professionals. A companion toolkit for communicating with parents and patients contains sample social media messages with graphics, along with educational resources to share with parents.

Dr. Kristina A. Bryant, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Louisville (Ky.) and Norton Children's Hospital in Louisville

Dr. Kristina A. Bryant

The “Comprehensive Vaccine Education Program – From Training to Practice,” a free online program offered by the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, takes a deeper dive into strategies to combat vaccine misinformation and address vaccine hesitancy. Available modules cover vaccine fundamentals, vaccine safety, clinical manifestations of vaccine-preventable diseases, and communication skills that lead to more effective conversations with patients and parents. The curriculum also includes the newest edition of The Vaccine Handbook app, a comprehensive source of practical information for vaccine providers.


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