August is traditionally “get ready” for school month. As such, it has been designated by the CDC as National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. In the pandemic year of 2020, vaccination rates have declined precipitously as people have delayed routine office visits for their families. Data from the CDC’s Vaccine Tracking System indicate a notable decrease in orders for non-influenza childhood vaccines and for measles vaccines beginning the week after the March 13 national emergency declaration. Similar declines in orders for other vaccines were also observed. This means education about keeping up to date with recommended vaccination schedules is more important than ever.
Although the NIAM promotion in August is intended to educate about the importance of vaccinating everyone with recommended immunizations, there are several groups who need special messaging during this time of the pandemic.
Get Ready for School
This year, it is especially important to make sure children are up to date on their vaccinations. The CDC estimates that more than 114 million children are at risk of missing out on measles vaccines, as COVID-19 surges. Because there have been so many missed well-child visits, it is likely many people will wait until the last minute to get an appointment and update vaccinations. This is a good time to remind parents of the following recommendations from the CDC:
- Your child needs additional doses of some vaccines from ages 3 through 6.
- You may need a certificate of immunization to enroll your child in school.
- As protection from childhood vaccines wears off, adolescents need additional vaccines to extend protection.
- As your child heads to college, make sure all vaccinations are up to date and he or she has a copy of all immunization records.
Get Ready for Flu Season
The overlap of COVID-19 and influenza has epidemiologists and other health professionals concerned. The U.S. may soon face two epidemics at the same time and this combination could precipitate a crisis unlike any other. Every fall and winter millions of people fall ill to influenza. Many need to be hospitalized and may even die. At the same time, it is likely that the virus causing COVID-19 will cause a second wave of infections even larger than the first. The two waves of infection could completely overwhelm health systems. On top of that, both viruses cause very similar and very severe respiratory symptoms.
A vaccine is produced every year for influenza that is designed to match the most common circulating strains. Although flu vaccines are not 100% effective, they usually reduce the severity of the disease. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) provides advice and guidance to the Director of the CDC regarding use of vaccines. They recommend:
- Routine annual influenza vaccinations for all persons aged ≥6 months who do not have contraindications.
Get Ready for a Coronavirus Vaccine
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health, has said in a CNN interview, “I’m a bit concerned to see there’s a fair amount of skepticism in the American public about whether or not they would take such a vaccine. We won’t get past Covid-19 unless we have a substantial majority of our public ultimately rendered immune.” There is a concern that because of the speed a coronavirus vaccine is being developed, it may not be safe. However, Dr. Collins gives this assurance, “As a scientist, a physician, and the director of the National Institutes of Health, we will make these decisions solely on the basis of the evidence for individual vaccines. This will not be influenced by other factors that might put people at risk.”
To prepare for the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine, this is a good time to educate the public on how vaccines work and what their benefits are.
Educate About the Importance of Vaccines
To help you, the CDC provides numerous educational resources for the public and providers for National Immunization Month, such as:
- Toolkit for Communicating with Parents and Patients
- Growing Up with Vaccines: What Should Parents Know?
- Toolkit for Communicating with Healthcare Professionals
- Interactive Vaccine Guide
- Adult Vaccine Assessment Tool
- Sample newsletter announcements to spread the word about National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM)
Vaccinations against bacteria and viruses are important tools for the prevention of serious diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic makes this statement an especially important public health message.