August 1, 2013

National Immunization Awareness Month

The month of August has been designated as National Immunization Awareness Month. As a partnering organization, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) helping to promote the importance of immunization in keeping our communities healthy.

“Too few adults are taking advantage of the protection vaccines provide, leaving themselves and those around them at greater risk of vaccine-preventable diseases,” according to Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Many factors influence low rates of adult immunization, but research indicates that a strong recommendation from a healthcare professional (HCP) is a powerful motivator for adults to get vaccinated. Even HCPs who do not provide vaccinations in their practice can play an important role in protecting their patients’ health simply by recommending they get vaccinated against serious diseases like influenza, tetanus, whooping cough, shingles, hepatitis A and B, and pneumococcal disease.

“Our nation has achieved high immunization rates in children, but the number of adults getting their recommended vaccines is very low,” says Dr. Carolyn Bridges, Associate Director for Adult Immunization at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Services Division. According to the latest data from the National Health Information Survey in 2011, only about 13% of adults reported getting a Tdap vaccination, which is recommended for all adults to prevent tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis). Only 20% of adults aged 19-64 years at high risk for pneumococcal disease received the vaccine. Adults 60 years and older are at increased risk for shingles, but only 16% of them reported getting the zoster vaccine that can help protect them against it. Only 36% of adults at high risk for hepatitis B have been vaccinated, and only 13% at high risk for hepatitis A have been vaccinated. Although human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine should ideally be given during adolescence, it can be given up to age 26 in women. Yet, only 30% of women 19-26 years old have received this cancer-preventing vaccine.

These low rates mean that adults needlessly suffer illness, hospitalization, and even death. As the most trusted sources of information about health, including immunization, HCPs can make a significant difference in whether a patient gets vaccinated. By routinely assessing  patients’ vaccine needs and strongly recommending needed vaccines, HCPs can improve the health of their patients and their loved ones. Every HCP has a role in ensuring their patients know which vaccines they need, even if they don’t stock vaccines in their office. Providers that don’t vaccinate can recommend needed vaccines and refer patients to a vaccinating provider or to the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.

Under the Affordable Care Act, many preventive services including recommended adult vaccines may now be covered by patient health insurance policies without any deductibles or coinsurance. Every patient visit is an opportunity to assess vaccine needs and strongly encourage them to stay up-to-date on recommended vaccines. Online resources are plentiful, including the latest recommended schedule for adult immunization, free patient education materials on adult vaccination, and evidence-based strategies that can be adopted to effectively incorporate vaccine needs assessment and recommendations into practice, including computerized record reminders, chart reminders mailed/telephoned reminders, and standing orders.

To join the conversation, follow us on Twitter (@nfidvaccines) using the hashtag #NIAM13, like us on Facebook, and join the NFID Linkedin Group.