August Marks National Immunization Awareness Month

When speaking with patients or parents, it is important for health care practitioners to stress that vaccines are safe, and vaccines save lives.

August marks National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), and the occasion is especially significant this year as cases of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States remains elevated.

The measles outbreaks in the United States—just last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 1100 confirmed cases of measles in 30 states so far in 2019—have underscored the importance of vaccination.

To mark NIAM, the CDC, in partnership with other public health agencies, is encouraging health care practitioners to take the lead by discussing vaccinations with parents and patients and urging them to stay up-to-date. The CDC’s online toolkit contains key messaging, broken down by vaccine type, for providers to broach these sometimes tough conversations.

For example, when discussing maternal vaccination with a woman who is pregnant, it is essential to stress that vaccines are safe and effective. Points to mention include: “Vaccines reduce your risk of infection by working with your body’s natural defenses to help you safely develop immunity to disease” or “a 2018 study showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40%.”

When talking with patients or parents about childhood and adolescent vaccines, it is important to mention that vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat. “While many serious diseases are no longer common in the United States thanks to vaccines, these diseases still exist and can spread when people aren’t vaccinated,” is an example what clinicians can say.

Indeed, Christina (Tina) Tan, MD, MPH, a New Jersey state epidemiologist and an assistant commissioner with the New Jersey Department of Health, made a similar point in a Contagion® Insights series on measles outbreaks and the role of public health.

“We have to remember that 1 of the big messages that we have to get out there is that there isn’t any evidence that shows vaccines have long-term impact or adverse effects on people,” Tan said in a recent segment. “But you do run the risk of impacting your life with a vaccine-preventable disease. If you’re not vaccinated, you could have long-term sequelae related to, say, encephalitis or related to measles that will last you a lifetime.”

Alex Azar, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, issued a statement to mark NIAM and emphasize vaccination for all populations.

“National Immunization Awareness Month is an opportunity to highlight the importance of vaccines as a safe and effective way to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from preventable health threats,” Azar said.

“Since the advent of vaccines, we have seen remarkable reductions in diseases that had previously been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States, such as polio and diphtheria,” he continued. “We urge all Americans to talk to their doctors and ensure they are up to date on the vaccine schedule recommended for them. To support public health and protect all Americans, HHS will continue to share with all Americans a simple message: Vaccines are safe, and vaccines save lives.”