Immunization Matters: The Role of LHDs in Educating Communities

logo_photo_250Although National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) is winding down, it’s important for local health departments (LHDs) to continue actively promoting the importance of immunization beyond August.

Immunizations play a vital role in protecting the health of communities. Thanks to the development of safe and effective vaccines, rates of vaccine-preventable disease have decreased in the last century in the United States. In fact, the US is on its way to reaching 80% standard vaccine series coverage for children ages 19 to 35 months, with coverage rates increasing from 44.3% in 2009 to 68.4% in 2012. Nonetheless, incidents such as the 2013 Measles outbreak indicate that, for a variety of reasons, vaccination is not always a priority in every city and county. This threatens local public health by producing an environment where vaccine-preventable diseases can spread quickly from person-to-person simply because vaccination rates are low.

As much as we’d like to think that increasing vaccination rates is a simple task, each local health department faces its own challenges in community uptake and completion. National Immunization Awareness Month is a great way to help LHDs overcome those challenges to promote the importance of vaccines for all ages in the community.

NIAM presents the perfect time to increase awareness about the benefits of vaccination as it coincides with back-to-school appointments, sports physicals, and the beginning of flu season when many community members will be interacting with their providers. Still, it’s important to remember that vaccines are not just for young and school-aged children. Specific immunizations are recommended for adolescents and teens, anyone who might be traveling abroad, and senior adults ages 60 and over.

LHDs can promote the importance of immunizations in their communities in a variety of ways, such as featuring NIAM materials and immunization reminders in provider newsletters; using social media to reach community members; posting NIAM information on their health department’s website; or, hosting a community event to provide immunization education and answer questions the community may have.

As you work to increase vaccinations, it’s important to remember and communicate that vaccines are not just for protecting the receiving individual; they also protect those around us. Vaccinations can save lives, prevent severe morbidity, and lower healthcare costs—so take advantage of NIAM and spread the word.

For additional information and resources your local health department can use to promote vaccinations in your community, please visit NPHIC and CDC websites, and check out this blog on NACCHO Voice to see what NACCHO’s President, Claude-Alix Jacob, MPH, Chief Public Health Officer for the Cambridge (MA) Public Health Department, has to say about NIAM and the importance of immunization.

About Kim Rodgers

Kim Rodgers serves as a Communications Specialist at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments' best practices, as well as partner tools and resources, in infectious disease and preparedness through NACCHO's communications channels, storytelling, and outreach to various audiences.

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