Everyone Plays a Role in Improving Immunization Rates and Preventing Outbreaks
This year, ongoing measles outbreaks have made headlines in the United States and around the world. Domestic measles cases reached a 25-year record high in June and the number continues to climb, with 1,164 confirmed cases in 30 states as of July 25, 2019. We have also experienced widespread outbreaks of hepatitis A across the United States in recent years, with 25 states reporting 22,556 cases, 13,352 hospitalizations, and 221 deaths since the outbreaks began in 2016.
As we mark National Immunization Awareness Month this August – an observance dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of immunization across the life span – we also mark a challenging year in immunization.
Childhood immunization rates in the United States remain high overall. Most parents — approximately 92% — choose to vaccinate their children. Yet, in some geographic pockets across the United States, an increasing number of parents are choosing to decline or delay childhood vaccines, leaving these communities vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases like measles.
In addition, across the country, far too many adults are not adequately vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to serious diseases like flu, hepatitis A and B, whooping cough, and shingles, all of which can take a huge toll on health and productivity.
Vaccinations saves lives, but only if people trust that they are safe, effective and the best protection against disease. At HHS, promoting vaccinations and building vaccine confidence are top public health priorities. We are vocal champions for immunization and continue to look for opportunities to educate people such as with our op-ed in the New York Times, the #HHSVaxChat we held in March, and in events held in town halls, hospitals and community centers across the nation. Our efforts also include advancing research to better understand vaccine confidence as well as partnerships to help counter misinformation online.
As Secretary Azar stated in marking National Immunization Awareness Month, “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.”
We have made tremendous strides in promoting vaccination, but it is clear that we cannot do this work alone. In fact, there are a number of ways that all of us can help improve vaccination rates and stop outbreaks from occurring in our communities. Here are a few:
- Get vaccinated. The first step in protecting your loved ones and your community is protecting yourself. Make sure you are up-to-date on all recommended vaccines. Start by finding out which vaccines you need.
- Show your support for immunizations. Although most parents vaccinate their children according to the recommended schedule, their stories are often missing from the discussion. Missing, too, are the stories from adults who make vaccination a priority for themselves. Sharing the reasons why vaccination is important to you – online, using the #ivax2protect hashtag, or in conversations with friends – is an important step in keeping your community protected.
- Host an event with experts. All parents want to do what’s best for their children. A very small percentage of parents choose to delay or refuse vaccines. Many parents have questions that need to be answered by a trusted health professional. This kind of conversation can be lengthy, and may be difficult to complete during an appointment. To help parents get answers to the questions they need, consider contacting a pediatric practice, local health department, or immunization coalition to find out how you can get involved in organizing an event where board-certified pediatricians and public health leaders can answer their questions in a welcoming, comfortable environment.
Vaccines promise a future where our children and grandchildren have a healthier future than previous generations. That future is only possible if we all work together to achieve it. Please join me during National Immunization Awareness Month by promoting the value of vaccines for people of all ages and by taking action in your own community. Learn more at Vaccines.gov.
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