By Fia Curley
It's only been a year since the Allegheny County Immunization Coalition in Pittsburgh began working toward "community immunity," looking "to promote immunization across the lifespan."
But this year, for National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), the group plans to debut with all-day immunization outreach initiatives at two area family support centers. The events will be informational, including a video about babies and vaccines, a Q and A session and a review of child immunization records with an opportunity to update vaccines the following week. Giveaways, such as onesies, bibs and magnetic appointment card holders, will be offered.
"We're young and we're trying to establish ourselves," said Coalition Nurse Nancy McManus. "I just want everybody to see how important immunizations are. I think what people fail to realize is when you risk natural disease, you risk—although it's rare—complications that can be very serious."
A survey taken by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that of the 50 states and District of Columbia, between 20 to 34 states have succeeded in reaching the 2010 goal of vaccinating at least 95 percent of the children entering kindergarten during the 2005-2006 school year. The vaccines studied include polio, diphtheria/tetanus/whooping cough, measles, mumps, hepatitis B, rubella, and chicken pox.
Reasons parents do not get their children vaccinated range from myths about side effects to concerns about pain and finances. And although children are required to have up-to-date immunizations before entering school, parents with limited means and more than one child may find it difficult to keep current immunizations, said Angela Berg, chair of Southern Nevada Immunization Coalition.
"You really have to make it free immunizations for the people to come out," she said, adding that babies must have 21 different injections for first year of life just to stay current.
When community-orchestrated immunizations come with a price tag, Berg said, the average attendance is 20 people compared with the 300 that are seen when the vaccines are free.
"People come in droves," Berg said.
That is why the launch of the statewide initiative Immunize Nevada is using NIIW to continue conducting community-sponsored outreach programs to attract families and their children across the state. Instead of immunizations being the focus, Berg said the events have become more like health fairs with different groups signing up to educate families about topics while they patiently wait in line.
"There's a lot of people in need here and it's easier to get the momentum growing with a large group," she said. "The fire department has even embraced this as a coalition partner and taken it out to the rural areas."
Activities are also offered during the outreach, which takes place in community centers or at fire departments, an area of interest for young children.
"We try to offer a lot of activities," said Heidi Hurst, statewide project coordinator for Immunize Nevada. "We try to make sure it's a family event instead of them just coming for vaccinations."
And thus far Hurst and Berg said it seems to be working.
"We know the community needs this event, we know children need to be immunized," Hurst said. "So we did have some great community partners step up so we could offer the vaccine for free."
Berg said parents of newborns are equipped with information daily before they ever leave the hospital. They're given Velcro packets that hold the baby's birth certificate, immunization records and facts about vaccinations.
"I think it has been a win-win situation," said Berg. "It has gotten some needed information into the hands of folks who might not have known these opportunities existed."
In Tulsa, the local Rotary Club and partners for Immunize Tulsa have worked together throughout the past five years to bring "Be Wise Immunize at the Tulsa Zoo" to families and their children.
The Tulsa City-County Health Department supplies the nurses and staff while Oklahoma State University and Blue Cross Blue Shield supply vans as vaccination centers. The Rotary Club members volunteer and pay for family members' admission to the zoo when at least one of their children is immunized.
Outside of the zoo, activities relating to National Safe Kids Week will be offered. A respiratory therapy group from the Oklahoma Pulmonary Rehab Specialists will offer free asthma screenings for children five to 18. Car seat checks, water safety clinics and giveaways of bike helmets, car seats and life jackets will be available.
"We've had wonderful help from out sponsors and the community," said Katherine Sebert, registered nurse and Tulsa Area Immunization Coalition Coordinator.
In 2005, they immunized 177 individuals. Last year they immunized 138 individuals including 31 infants. If the weather permits, Sebert said she expects record numbers with more than a hundred volunteers to help the event go smoothly.
"There are new vaccines that have been added in the last few years and because there are so many, it does get confusing for a parent," Sebert said.
To make matters worse, false information about the dangers of immunizations has been circulating on the internet, making it harder for parents to decipher between fact and fiction.
"We need to do a better job of reminding people to stay up with their immunizations," Sebert said. "A lot of times we're victims of our own success when it comes to immunizations.
According to Sebert, it can be difficult for people to fully grasp the necessity of immunizations when they haven't even heard of the diseases.
"You can be a member of the public or you can have a college education and never heard about it because we've been so successful," she said. "We're only a plane ride away from some of these illnesses, because the world's a small place. Basically, the point is, if they get their shots on time, on schedule, it can save their lives."
Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Immunizations data and statistics
Disparities in Immunizations
National Immunization Program
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases