National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) is observed annually in August to highlight the importance of vaccination across the lifespan.
With the overall success, safety, and efficacy of vaccines, many vaccine-preventable diseases are becoming increasingly rare and vaccination rates for many routinely recommended vaccines remain relatively high and stable. According to data from the National Immunization Survey (NIS) – Child, vaccination coverage for children between 19 – 35 months was last determined to be >90% for vaccination with ≥3 doses of poliovirus vaccine (92.7%), ≥1 dose of MMR (91.5%), ≥3 doses of HepB (91.4%), and ≥1 dose of varicella vaccine (91.0%)1. NIS-Teen data also indicate that 51.1% of adolescents aged 13–17 years were up to date with the HPV vaccine series, 68.1% had received ≥1 dose of HPV vaccine, and coverage with ≥1 MenACWY was 86.6%2.
Despite stable and relatively high vaccination coverage, several factors pose ongoing and newly emerging threats to the nation’s progress in sustaining high immunization coverage. Both NIS-Child and Teen surveys revealed disparities in coverage among those living in non-metropolitan statistical areas and children that are uninsured and Medicaid-insured. These findings highlight significant opportunities for improvement in access to and delivery of recommended vaccines. Additionally, despite the success and strong safety record of vaccines, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation are of significant public health concern as they produce an environment in which vaccine-preventable diseases can spread quickly from person-to-person among under-/un-immunized individuals and communities. As the nation faces an unprecedented public health emergency, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has also created new concerns regarding the ability to maintain immunization coverage, services, and counseling with the impact of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Taking Action to Improve Immunization at the Local Level
To capitalize on the momentum of successful vaccines and continue to address challenges in achieving optimal vaccination coverage, your local health department (LHD) can promote the importance of vaccines during National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM)! As public health awaits the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, prepares for the 2020-2021 influenza season, and strives to ensure routine vaccination rates are maintained during this unprecedented time, NIAM is an excellent opportunity to remind communities of the importance and benefits of vaccines. Additionally, the awareness month serves as an opportunity to recognize those in the community that strive to increase vaccination rates, educate communities about vaccine benefits, and implement control measures to contain vaccine-preventable disease cases/outbreaks.
In a time of social distancing, local health department immunization programs have needed to utilize non-traditional and innovative mechanisms by which to continue providing this essential public health service. In response to NACCHO’s assessment, The Impact of COVID-19 on Local Health Department Immunization Programs, respondents indicated adjusting clinic hours and appointment schedules, adopting online/telehealth services, conducting home visits or drive-thru vaccination clinics, and conducting health pre-screenings before a clinic visit. In observance of NIAM, LHDs can do a variety of things to continue to promote the importance of immunizations such as adding NIAM materials and reminders to immunization and provider newsletters, using social media to reach community members, posting NIAM information on the health department website, and possibly hosting a virtual community event to answer questions about vaccinations, especially as students prepare for back-to-school.
Vaccines can save lives, prevent severe morbidity and reduce the occurrence of preventable disease outbreaks, so take advantage of NIAM and spread the word!
- Read NACCHO’s Story from the Field, Innovative Ways to Maintain Immunization Coverage during a Pandemic, to learn how members of NACCHO’s Immunization Workgroup have prioritized and maintained immunization services in their communities.
- To participate in NIAM 2020, check out CDC’s toolkit and use the resources to raise awareness among healthcare professionals, parents, and patients about the important role vaccines play in preventing serious, sometimes deadly, diseases across the lifespan!
Immunization is the most frequently provided LHD clinical service and LHDs often serve as critical safety net providers for this essential public health service within their communities. In observance of NIAM, NACCHO takes this opportunity to thank and applaud LHDs and their staff for their continued efforts and achievements in ensuring that individuals and communities across the country are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases!