It’s More Than Giving Shots, It’s Saving Lives – World Immunization Week

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April 26th, 2012

By , BSN, RN

I started out this week reviewing how to give a shot. It seemed an appropriate topic for this nursing education website. I followed up with a blog about the importance of nurses in the vaccination process, in light of the recent news that measles are on the upswing in this country. Well, little did I know, but I was just part of a worldwide effort to raise awareness about immunizations.

April 21 – 28, 2012 is World Immunization Week, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and supported by countries and healthcare providers around the globe.

To underscore the importance of immunization in saving lives, and to encourage families to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases, WHO is uniting countries everywhere for a week of vaccination campaigns, public education and information sharing under the umbrella of World Immunization Week.

Worldwide collaboration provides an opportunity to boost momentum and focus on specific actions such as:

  • Raising awareness on how immunization saves lives.
  • Increasing vaccination coverage to prevent disease outbreaks.
  • Reaching underserved and marginalized communities (e.g. those living in remote areas, deprived urban settings, fragile states and strife-torn regions) with existing and newly available vaccines
  • Reinforcing the medium- and long-term benefits of immunization (e.g. giving children a chance to grow up healthy, go to school and improve their life prospects).

Immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. It prevents between two and three million deaths every year. Immunization prevents debilitating illness, disability, and death from vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus diarrhea, tetanus and yellow fever. The benefits of immunization are increasingly being extended to adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis, and cancers (e.g. cervical and liver cancers) that occur in adulthood.

First Ever Worldwide Recognition

In fact, there have been regional initiatives around the world for 10 years, 2012 is the first tie more than 180 countries and territories joined together for World Immunization Week

With the goal of vaccinating some 44 million people, 45 countries and territories of the Americas are participating in the 10th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas.

More than 365 million people of all ages have been vaccinated during the past nine years in campaigns carried out within this framework. This year, the campaign’s slogan is “For you, for me, for everyone: Get vaccinated.”

The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) has supported Vaccination Week in the Americas since 2003, when it was first launched. The initiative’s success has provided inspiration for other regions of the world, resulting in this, the first World Immunization Week.

The countries of the North, Central, and South Americas, as well as the countries of the Caribbean, have been world leaders in the elimination and reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. The region was the first to eradicate smallpox (in 1971) and to eliminate polio (in 1991). The last endemic case of measles in the Americas was reported in 2002, and the last endemic case of rubella in 2009. Nearly all countries have eliminated neonatal tetanus as a public health problem. And diseases including diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough have been significantly reduced thanks to vaccination coverage averaging 93% in children under one year of age.

Here at Home

Since 1994, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have partnered with local and state health departments, national immunization partners, health care professionals, community leaders from across the United States in an annual observation of National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW). The focus of NIIW is to promote the benefits of immunizations and to improve the health of children two years old or younger. These organizations highlight the positive impact of vaccination on the lives of infants and children, and call attention to immunization achievements.

Vaccines have drastically reduced infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases in the United States. In addition:

  • Through immunization, infants and children are protected from 14 vaccine-preventable disease before the age of two.
  • In the 1950s, nearly every child developed measles, some even died from the serious disease. Today, few physicians just out of medical school will ever see a case of measles during their careers.
  • Routine childhood immunization in one birth cohort prevents about 20-million cases of disease and about 42, 000 deaths. It also saves about 13.6 billion dollars in direct costs.
  • In September 2011, the CDC announced that childhood immunization rates for vaccines routinely recommended for children remain at or near record highs.

Still, without diligent efforts to maintain immunization programs in the U.S. and diligence in strengthening programs worldwide, vaccine-preventable diseases will remain a threat to children. As illustrations, it’s only necessary to consider the 2010 outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough), which killed 10 infants in California, or measles, which takes the lives of more than 100,000 children globally each year. In 2011, more than 200 people in the United States were confirmed with measles.

So, here it is. We are almost back where the week started. Nurses play a huge role in promoting the importance of childhood immunization in this country. As nurses we are educators and it is our job to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of vaccination in protecting their children from birth against vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles.

One way we can help is to provide parents and caregivers with a toll-free number, 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636), to locate a facility that offers immunizations through the Vaccines for Children’s program, a federally funded program that provides vaccinations at no cost to children whose parents cannot afford to pay for them.

Furthermore, flu shots work. They don’t cause the flu and for many people it is the difference between putting up with a simple cold versus possibly missing weeks of work due to a flu outbreak and exposing your whole family to the disease. The elderly, people with small children, people with chronic diseases, and healthcare providers should all keep up with their vaccinations.

Let’s make the first ever World Immunization Week a success by spreading the word, not vaccine-preventable diseases.

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