August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM)! Every year, the public health community focuses on spreading awareness of the importance of vaccinations for people of all ages. There are four main messages that are promoted through this campaign:
1) Vaccines protect against serious diseases
2) These diseases still exist and outbreaks do occur
3) Vaccines are recommended throughout our lives
4) Vaccines are very safe.
The United States backs up the importance of these messages with strict school attendance policies regarding vaccinations. Each state has their own laws, but they each require vaccines for children not only attending public schools, but also private schools, universities and daycares. All states allow for medical exemptions, but only some states offer religious or philosophical exemptions. In addition to these policies, the country pushes out amazing social media campaigns that focus on this observance in August. These messages are promoted in many diverse social media outlets in the United States. To name a few, the National Public Health Information Coalition has a toolkit with multiple social media strategies promoting on-time vaccination, and the American Academy of Pediatricians has created and shared a video with many doctors across the country sharing their perspective on why they vaccinate. There are dozens of news articles published everyday with questions and answers regarding the importance of vaccines and reminding parents to get their kids vaccinated before school starts. There are even great articles stressing the importance of adult vaccination – which we don’t see very often! So much good material is pushed out towards the public during this month to promote the truth in how they protect ourselves and our communities.
From an international health perspective, diseases impact everyone, all over the globe.
What are some things being done in other countries around the world? Do they encourage and push out vaccine efforts and policies as much as the United States? Is it just as important?
It turns out, yes! Vaccines are important in many different countries across the world. Here’s a quick spotlight from CNN and other current articles on a few countries that have recently improved their efforts through policy to increase vaccination rates in their countries.
France just passed a new law that requires all children born after January 1st to receive 11 mandatory vaccines. The Ministry of Health is trying to increase their vaccination coverage to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 95% with this new law. The ministry did not want to use forceful methods to motivate the public into getting vaccinated, however this new law will strongly incentivize parents to get their children their shots – otherwise they will not be allowed to attend schools or daycares.
To address the recent measles outbreaks going on in Europe, Italy has followed the United States’ lead and required vaccinations for school entrance. However, they are different from the United States because they are NOT allowing conscientious objections and their citizens will be issued a fine if they do not choose to vaccinate.
Germany recently introduced legislation that makes it required for Kindergarten schools to report to their health departments any parents who have not submitted proof of vaccination for their children. The vaccinations have been required in the past, however reporting parents to the health department is a new stronger twist in ensuring vaccination coverage in schools across the country.
Canada has worked on increasing their vaccination rates by combining vaccine appointments with their routine check ups, providing home visits, creating more vaccine clinics and sending out reminders. This makes it easier for those living further out from clinics and larger cities to get their kids’ vaccination needs taken care of.
In 2016, Australia’s government passed a law that allows families with lower incomes to get “tax rebates” if they keep their child up to date on vaccines. More than 210,000 families have participated since the program was implemented in January 2016 – that’s a lot of kids vaccinated!
On August 6th, 2018, Brazil launched a nationwide vaccination campaign for measles and polio after a large outbreak of measles that resulted in five children deaths. In states where measles is more concentrated, the Ministry of Health has given out free shots in clinics and citizen homes. Their ambitious goal is to vaccinate 95% of children ages 1 to 5 by the end of August.
In an article by Nicholas Dugan, we see that progress has been made in the South Asian countries of Nepal and Bhutan regarding 90% diptheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) coverage since the adoption of the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) in 2012. Bangladesh has also increased their DTP3 rates by over 20% after the 1980’s when they invested in health infrastructure and training regarding immunizations. These rates are encouraging to hear, as the region of South Asia has typically lagged behind other regions in their vaccination requirement efforts.
Lastly, about 20 million infants worldwide have not been reached through immunizations services and about 60% of those 20 million can be pinpointed to live in 10 countries: Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa. The WHO is working with these countries through initiatives like the Global Vaccine Action Plan mentioned above. In 2017, the GVAP was revamped to further encourage government to improve monitoring and surveillance systems regarding immunization rates so that the data from these systems is up to date and able to guide policy and decision-making for the future. It also requests the WHO Secretariat support these countries continuously to achieve these goals.
Overall, each of these country policies are a little different, but they all encourage and strive to increase vaccination coverage in their respective countries – some with help from other organizations like the WHO. Over the last few years, the proportion of children across the world with recommended vaccines has stayed stable according to the World Health Organization. With all of these different methods for bringing awareness to the importance of vaccinations through social media this month and different health policies around the world, I am encouraged and optimistic about efforts to increase the proportion of children across the world covered by these essential vaccinations.
Getting involved with health policies that encourage vaccinations is worthwhile and leads to great changes in many different countries as seen above, but if you want to be involved in a smaller (but still impactful) way, I’ve included a few different resources you can use via social media, regardless of where you live, and do your part in increasing awareness and importance of vaccines during the month of August:
- Health.gov’s toolkit (includes information to add to a newsletter, tweets, community events)
- American Academy of Pediatricians toolkit (blogs and articles to share)
- CDC’s recommended immunization schedule
Retweet, post and share away the importance of this observance!