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Your Important Role in Recommending Vaccines: Observing National Immunization Awareness Month

Portrait of a female NP wearing a mask and a white coat in front of a group of providers with National Immunization Month and #ivax2protect

This August, it’s time to help your patients get back on track with routine vaccinations — and continue to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the federally funded Vaccines for Children program found a substantial decrease in routine pediatric vaccine ordering. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report to follow up on these findings.

Routinely recommended childhood and adolescent vaccines were analyzed, including diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP) for children 0-23 months of age and 2-6 years of age; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) for children 12-23 months of age and 2-8 years of age; human papillomavirus (HPV) for children 9-12 years of age and adolescents 13-17 years of age; and tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) for adolescents 13-17 years of age.

The analysis indicated a substantial decrease in administered routine vaccinations from March to May 2020, when compared with March-May 2018 and the same period in 2019. Plus, while administered routine vaccinations increased from June to September 2020 to almost pre-pandemic levels, it was not enough to achieve catch-up vaccination — meaning there is a population of infants, children and even adolescents who have missed routine vaccinations.

The Need to Increase Catch-up Vaccinations

Catch-up vaccinations may be lagging for a number of reasons. The CDC indicates that fear of contracting COVID-19 and COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders may have both been factors. In addition, as more children and adolescents transitioned to virtual learning because of the pandemic, schools may not of been able to enforce immunization requirements for attendance.

The National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit and partner organizations are also calling upon health care providers to take actions to improve routine vaccination of adults, as well. Routine adult immunization can protect against severe illness, disability and death from 15 different infectious diseases, including influenza, shingles, hepatitis A and B, cancers resulting from HPV, tetanus and whooping cough. Among all U.S. adults, nearly 80% are not vaccinated against at least one preventable illness, and the rate has declined since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

To protect our communities from vaccine-preventable diseases, it’s important for all health care providers to encourage routine vaccinations, following the most up-to-date immunization schedules, and ensure that individuals who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine obtain one.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are uniquely positioned to educate patients about the importance of immunization and increase vaccine uptake in their communities and around the world. According to research conducted by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP), 81.2% of NPs provide preventive screening services and immunizations, and vaccines are among the top 10 agents prescribed regularly by NPs.

As The Voice of the Nurse Practitioner®, AANP is proud to have signed on as a supporting organization for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) Keep Up The Rates campaign. The campaign aims to reach those who are delaying vaccinations, lack equitable access to vaccines or are at risk of experiencing complications from vaccine-preventable diseases.

In support of Keep Up The Rates and National Immunization Awareness Month, now is the best time to access NP continuing education (CE), information for patients, evidence-based clinical resources and toolkits to help protect their communities so we all can stay safe and healthy.

How NPs Can Encourage Vaccines

Newly updated by the Community Guide, the What Works Fact Sheet: Increasing Appropriate Vaccination breaks down Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) recommendations and findings on best practices to improve vaccination rates. Some of the recommendations include reducing patients’ out-of-pocket costs, vaccination programs in schools and child care centers, vaccination requirements and home visits — many activities in which NPs are already participating.

For additional guidance on obtaining patient buy-in on all types of immunizations, view the #HowIRecommend videos from the CDC. With topics covering vaccine side effects, vaccine hesitancy, ways to answer safety questions and making effective recommendations, the series features a number of clinicians — including two AANP NP members!

Other information from the CDC includes talking points and key messages to help you communicate with your patients and the parents of younger patients, specifically regarding maternal, childhood and adult vaccination. Don’t forget that it’s important to protect your own health while treating patients — view the recommendations on vaccines for health care workers.

For patients who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, you play a critical role in helping recipients understand the importance and safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Learn more about effective ways to discuss COVID-19 vaccination, find resources to help you share accurate information, raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination and address common questions and concerns about what to expect when getting vaccinated.

Access AANP Resources on Immunizations

Whether it’s clinical practice tools or integral NP education, AANP is here with the support you need:

  • A grassroots advocacy campaign of the United Nations Foundation, Shot@Life champions global childhood immunization via public education, grassroots advocacy and fundraising. As an AANP member, you can visit the AANP CE Center to complete the Shot@Life Champion Training: Learn How to Use Your Voice Effectively to Advocate for Global Childhood Immunization Programs. This CE activity prepares NPs to increase vaccine awareness and disseminate information about how deadly vaccine-preventable diseases can be.
  • AANP’s clinical practice briefs offer brief summaries of published clinical practice guidelines and research-based approaches that promote best practices and standards of care among all NPs — and they are available exclusively to members! In the Measles: Recommendations for Assessment, Treatment and Prevention Clinical Practice Brief, you can access a summary of ways to monitor for measles in your patients, tips to prevent transmission, treatment methods and vaccine efficacy.
  • While the incidence of meningococcal disease has decreased in the U.S., sporadic cases still occur and about 5% of cases today are related to outbreaks. Recent, significant outbreaks have been reported among college students and men who have sex with men. New in the AANP CE Center, Meningococcal Vaccine: Prevention of Serogroup B Meningococcal Disease in Adolescents and Young Adults helps learners identify meningococcal vaccine recommendations and integrate strategies for shared clinical decision-making and for educating, encouraging and monitoring patients to increase vaccine adherence.
    • Then, help your patients and their parents understand the risks and symptoms of serogroup B meningococcal disease, as well as how to prevent it with the recommended vaccines, in the Importance of Preventing Meningococcal Disease patient handout. This is a helpful way to give parents and patients the information they need to make an informed decision about the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine.
    • You can further increase awareness of the meningococcal B vaccine by downloading the Meningitis Table Tent. AANP developed this trifold informational tool to provide a concise review of meningococcal disease, symptoms and prevention through vaccination. This tent can be printed, folded, taped and placed in your waiting or exam room, where patients and parents will read it, to initiate questions and conversations about meningococcal disease prevention.
    • Take your learning on the go by listening to the latest episode of NP Pulse: The Voice of the Nurse Practitioner®, AANP’s official podcast! In Meningococcal Vaccine: Prevention in Adolescents and Young Adults, two expert NP members speak with two members of the Meningitis B Action Project about how this disease has impacted their lives and steps we can take to protect our young adults.
  • One in four Americans have human papillomavirus (HPV), which amounts to almost 80 million individuals. However, only about 50% of young women and about 20% of young men have received the HPV vaccine — well below the Healthy People 2020 objective. The HPV VAX NOW campaign, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health (OWH), encourages providers to do their part to protect young adult patients against HPV-related cancers. Head to the AANP CE Center for Updated Guidelines for HPV Vaccination: Preteens to Adults and learn to choose the appropriate evidence-based communication strategy to address vaccine hesitancy or refusal, plus identify potential consequences of delayed vaccination.
    • Then, download the HPV patient handout, which provides a summary of HPV and HPV-related cancers to educate patients about who should receive the HPV vaccination and when. It also offers a list of sources for reliable vaccination information. This handout can be printed and placed in waiting and exam rooms or provided to patients so that they, and parents of adolescent patients, will be encouraged to discuss HPV prevention with their health care provider.

How Do You Recommend Vaccines?

As we continue to combat COVID-19, including the delta variant, it’s important that we do our part to protect ourselves and others in our communities. Remaining vigilant in our fight against these infectious diseases is imperative to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and death.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, NPs have been deploying innovative strategies for vaccine distribution and patient education to ensure vaccine-hesitant individuals and underserved populations have the information they need to make an informed decision and can gain access to vaccinations in their local community. Visit AANP’s COVID-19 webpage to access the most current information on immunization and treatment.

Spread the word by sharing reputable, valuable information with your patients to combat health misinformation and encourage informed decision-making. Together, we can maintain the decades of progress we’ve made against some of the world’s most dangerous diseases — and ensure that COVID-19 follows suit.

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