4 Ways You Can Become a Vaccine Advocate (And Why It Matters)

Your immunizations are up to date. Your kids are on track to receive all of their required and recommended vaccines before school starts. You’ve even scheduled your 2015-2016 flu shot appointments (you overachiever, you).

Your job is done, right? Not so fast.

We applaud you for taking the necessary steps to protect your family from preventable diseases, but there’s even more we can all do to support healthy immunization practices and policies nationwide. Thanks to social media, local immunization coalitions, and good old-fashioned email writing, it’s easier than ever to become a pro-vaccine advocate—in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, here are five easy ways that you, too, can advocate to make these life-saving medicines broadly available and easily accessible.

Together, let’s prevent what’s preventable.

Participate in National Immunization Awareness Month: Since 2007, the Center for Disease Control has dubbed August National Immunization Awareness Month. The annual campaign educates the public on the importance of vaccines and invites all of us to become community advocates for vaccine awareness and utilization. The easiest way to join in the conversation? Follow #NIAM on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and amplify the messages, facts, and info the CDC and The Immunization Partnership send out.

Work With Your Local Immunization Coalition: Contact your local immunization coalition (nearly every state has one) to find out how they’re participating in National Immunization Awareness Month. Get involved on a grassroots level to make a difference where it matters most to you—right at home.

Engage Your Legislators: You don’t have to be a lobbyist or a doctor or even old enough to vote to ask your congressmen to support vaccine-positive bills. Start by registering for The Immunization Partnership’s legislative alerts, which track immunization laws and policies around Texas. Then peruse our legislative resources, a collection of guides that make it simple (and effective) to support pro-vaccine bills—including sample thank you notes, typical scripts for legislative meetings, and how-tos for finding and contacting your local representatives.

Educate Yourself: Seek out the many educational programs, conferences, and webinars that immunization coalitions and nonprofits (including The Immunization Partnership!) host throughout the year. Can’t sneak away during your lunch hour? Start by perusing TIP’s archived webinars and lunch ‘n’ learns on your own time. They cover a number of actionable topics, including tips for responding to vaccine-hesitant parents, tools for working with legislators, and practical strategies for improving HPV vaccination rates in your community.

Vaccines You Need Before Visiting a Newborn

Courtesy of Ruebus Designs on Etsy.

Courtesy of Ruebus Designs on Etsy.

Meeting a friend or relative’s newborn soon? In all the excitement, it’s easy to forget that newborns will not receive certain vaccinations until they are a bit older. You need to think about your immunizations so you don’t expose your new favorite person to infectious diseases.

Before meeting that bundle of joy, chat with a healthcare provider and make sure you’re up to date on your routine vaccination schedule. Here are a few to be aware of.

TDAP
Because it was only approved in 2005, many people aren’t aware they need this vaccine. Even if you have received the shot, a booster is required every 10 years. TDAP protects against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (or whooping cough). The last one is especially dangerous for newborns; they’re at a higher risk for life-threatening complications from whooping cough than any other demographic.

Measles, Mumps, Rubella
Newborns receive the first dose of most vaccines around one or two months, but the first MMR dose isn’t recommended until twelve months; that’s a long time to be vulnerable. With the recent spike in measles outbreaks, it’s more important than ever to be up to date on this vaccine.

Influenza
This is another dose most infants don’t get until six months. Many adults skip their flu shot (adherence was only 46.2% during the 2014-2015 flu season), but this is one of the reasons it’s so important to get your annual dose. Newborns are at high risk for life threatening complications from the flu, and you want to avoid passing it on to them.

Varicella
This shot protects against the chicken pox, but even if you’ve already had the chickenpox, make sure you’re up to date. You may be immune to the disease, but you could still carry it and pass it on to the child. This immunization isn’t recommended until twelve months, so infants are vulnerable to the illness for an especially long time.

Meningococcal
This is a trio of shots that protect against bacterial meningitis. The first dose isn’t recommended for children until they’re 11 years old; infants have a higher risk than any other group of developing a severe infection. These two facts mean one thing for you: Make sure you’re up to date on these immunizations. You’ll protect not only infants but also all kids who can’t be immunized yet.

Travel Health: Immunizations You Need Before That Big European Vacation

A man on a bridge in Venice, Italy

You’ve booked the flights and reserved the hotels, but are your vaccinations up to date?  Photo credit: Unsplash/3828 images

Heading to Europe this summer? It’s easy to think that because developed countries in Europe have similar vaccine recommendations to the U.S., you can skip a doctor’s visit before that big trip. But that’s not necessarily true. Even if you got all your shots as a kid, you still might need boosters as an adult—especially because vaccine adherence is lower in some European countries than it is stateside.

Your game plan? Chat with a healthcare provider, make sure you’re up to date on your routine vaccination schedule, and check if any additional vaccinations are recommended for your vacation destinations. Here are a few to ask about:

Measles
Outbreaks of the measles have been making headlines here lately, but the problem is even worse in Europe. There were 3,840 cases of measles in Europe last year. Germany and Italy have particularly high rates of the disease. Regardless of your destination, make sure your MMR status is up to date before you leave.

TDAP
The TDAP vaccine was only licensed in 2005, so there’s a good chance you missed it as a kid.  Even if you did get it, you need a booster dose every 10 years. The vaccine has become a part of the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule, so get it before you leave.

Hepatitis A
Though risk for Hep A is low in most of Europe, the CDC cautions that outbreaks can occur anywhere in the world, and there is always the risk of contracting the disease through contaminated food or water. In some European destinations (Croatia and the Czech Republic among them), the risk is higher than in the U.S.; the CDC recommends the vaccine for most travelers in those places.

Flu
This is one major difference between European and American vaccine recommendations: An annual flu shot is recommended for all adults in the U.S, but not a single European country does the same. You don’t want to spend your vacation stuck in bed with the chills; get that flu shot before you go.

Typhoid, polio, yellow fever, rabies
Because these diseases are present in less developed areas, a lot of people don’t think of them when they’re going to Europe; but the CDC recommends them for many destinations in Eastern Europe. You should also ask about these immunizations if you’ll be participating in outdoor activities, are taking an extended trip, or will be staying with locals. Check this CDC resource to see if it’s recommended for your destination.

Your Weekly Dose 7.14: All the Vaccine News You Missed

Nationwide, parents are more supportive of vaccines than just a year ago; the US reports its first measles death in more than a decade; and  a vaccine for dengue is closer than you think. Bonus: Elmo and the Surgeon General chat vaccines.

Elmo Gets a Check-UpWatch the Surgeon General calm down an adorably nervous Elmo as he gets his first vaccinations (with a little help from TSwift). [The Daily Dot

Hope for Dengue Vaccine: A new antibody discovery offers hope for a vaccine to prevent dengue, the sometimes-fatal mosquito-borne virus that affects 390 million people each year. [Medical News today]

All It Takes Is One (Mutation): Just one mutation decreased the effectiveness of last year’s flu vaccine. Here’s how scientists are gearing up to make this season’s dose even more effective. [Healthline]

First Recorded Measles Death: The US marked its first measles death in 12 years last week, when an autopsy confirmed a woman in Washington State died from the disease.

Vaccine Attitudes Changing: In a recent study, 34 percent of parents think vaccines have more of an impact than they did a year ago—and 35 percent support more stringent vaccination requirements in schools and daycares. [C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital]

Free Meningitis Vaccines in ChicagoMore than 45 Chicago-area clinics and pharmacies (including Walgreens) are offering free meningitis vaccines following an outbreak of the disease last month. [Chicago Tribune]

Want to Work in Vaccines? 4 Careers That Really Make a Difference

One reason to work in vaccines? You’ll make a difference in the lives of countless parents, children, and students around the world. Another reason? “Disease Detective” is a very cool (and very real) job title. Whatever your motivation—no judgment here—these are four career paths that have a significant impact in the vaccine field.

Solve the Outbreak game

Take a crack at being a Disease Detective by playing the CDC’s Solve the Outbreak game

Disease Detective
CDC Epidemic Intelligence Officers, a.k.a. “disease detectives,” track a disease outbreak back to its source, identifying everyone who may have been exposed along the way. Their work allows public health workers to quarantine, vaccinate, and treat those exposed as needed. Disease detectives were especially important to limiting the impact of the recent measles outbreak, and they’re vital to public health whenever an infectious disease breaks out.

Nurse
Nurses are on the front lines of immunizations. Not only do they administer many vaccines, they are some of the most important advocates in the immunization community. Nurses have a tremendous amount of one-on-one time with patients; this gives them the unique opportunity to advise patients on recommended immunizations, reassure hesitant parents about vaccine safety, and discuss any other concerns in-person with patients.

Vaccine Research and Development
There are two major branches of vaccine research: Basic science researchers and clinical science researchers. Basic researchers look at the physical properties of disease-causing microbes—they’re working to understand how these physical properties can be used in the body to produce immunity against specific diseases. Clinical researchers use that knowledge to develop vaccines and test them for safety and effectiveness, so that they can eventually be administered to the general public.

Development Director
Many organizations involved in immunization advocacy (like us!) are not-for-profits that rely on fundraising to support their efforts. Development Directors are at the forefront of this, making sure immunization organizations have the funds they need to do their life-saving work. The job involves everything from organizing philanthropic events to securing donations from foundations, individuals, and the government. Consider it a sales job, but the product you’re selling is public health and an end to needless suffering.

Your Weekly Dose 6.27: All the Vaccine News You Missed

California passes a landmark vaccine mandate, the CDC issues a cautious meningitis recommendation, and pre-cancerous lesions show a steep decline thanks in part to the HPV vaccine. Plus: A father’s moving testimony supports California’s stricter vaccine regulations.

SB277 Passes: The California assembly approved a bill that would end students’ vaccine exemptions for personal or religious beliefs—making it one of the nation’s strictest vaccine regulations. [LA Times]

A Father’s Moving Testimony: Among the many who spoke out in support of SB277? Carl Krewitt, father of a 7-year-old leukemia survivor who could not be vaccinated. “I know what fear is because I was in the hospital with a kid whose odds of survival were pretty low. But what scared me more than the threat of disease was the misinformation” about vaccines. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]

CDC Panel Cautious on New Meningitis Vaccine Recommendation: A panel of health experts recommended a limited use of the relatively new meningitis (type b) vaccine. While the recommendation is a step forward, it fell short of a stronger recommendation for routine administration wanted by many of the parents and patients who testified in front of the panel. [NY Times]

Pre-Cancerous Cervical Lesions Decline: Although we won’t have direct proof for years that HPV vaccination can prevent cervical cancers, we’re seeing a drop in the number of young women with pre-cancerous cervical lesions — and that’s a great sign! [Health Day]

5 Trustworthy Vaccine Facebook Accounts to Like Now

Last week we told you about 5 great Twitter accounts to follow for reliable and useful immunization information. Another great place to connect with the immunization community? Facebook. We love these five immunization-related accounts for their important insights, timely news items, and (most importantly) accurate information. Like them now!

Voices For Vaccines: Voices for Vaccines is a group of parents dedicated to providing clear, science-based information on vaccines to help all parents make informed decisions for their children. The Facebook page provides useful, effective strategies for interacting with people who might have questions or concerns about vaccines on social media, plus insight into timely legislation like SB277, the California bill that would require all students to be vaccinated.

Nurses Who Vaccinate: Nurses Who Vaccinate’s goal is to enable healthcare professionals to be reliable, informed vaccine advocates. But the page is a great resource even if you don’t work in healthcare. Check here for updates on global news, such as the MERS outbreak in South Korea, practical information on keeping your vaccine status up to date, and stories showing the life-saving impact of immunizations around the world.

Immunize Colorado: This page is run by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but it’s a fantastic resource no matter where you live. Immunize Colorado keeps its fans in the loop on a broad range of immunization topics. Like the page to stay up-to-date on immunization legislation and advocacy, learn about your own vaccine status, and find other immunization organizations doing important work globally.

Sabin Vaccine Institute: “We’re advocates for a world free of needless suffering” reads Sabin’s About section, and it sums this organization up pretty well. These scientists know how important vaccines are to improving public health, and they want to educate the public. The group is globally focused, so expect updates on immunization news from around the world.

Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance: Gavi focuses on the many people in developing countries who don’t have access to vaccines at all. The aim: to increase access to immunization in underdeveloped communities around the world.  Their Facebook page gives detailed information about their important work. We especially love their photos and videos, highlighting the people who directly benefit from vaccine access in developing countries.

Looking for more? Check to see if your area’s immunization coalition has a Facebook account for immunization-related news and events in your local community.

5 Vaccines All Young Men Need (Because It’s Men’s Health Month)

mens-health-monthYoung men are half as likely to seek out preventive care services as young women. And because they’re skipping doctors visits, many young men aren’t getting essential details about their vaccination status. It’s important to receive boosters and new vaccinations throughout your life to prevent a wide range of diseases. For Men’s Health Month, here are five you should talk to your medical provider about getting.

Flu: The CDC recommends all adults get a flu vaccine every year of their life. Even so, the vaccination rate for men in the U.S. ages 18 to 64 was only 32.9 percent in 2013, compared to 40.4% for women of the same age, and 58.6% for children aged 6 months to 17. If you’re young and healthy, influenza can still cause fever, fatigue, headaches, sore throat and body aches. Most importantly: You also might pass it on to someone in a high-risk category, like children, pregnant women and the elderly, where it can prove fatal.

HPV: It’s not just for women. Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cancer of the anus, throat, and penis in men, yet only 5.9 percent of men ages 19-26 receive at least one dose of the 3-dose series. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine up to age 26, but it’s best to get vaccinated at age 11-12 before you’re sexually active. Even if you are already sexually active, the shot can still protect you against strains of HPV you haven’t been exposed to.

Tdap: The shot protects against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Even if you received a similar vaccine as a kid, you still need a booster shot as an adult. Tetanus can cause muscle stiffening, and diphtheria can affect breathing. Pertussis (known as whooping cough) is extremely contagious, and can cause violent coughing episodes, often lasting for weeks. A lot of adults with whooping cough don’t even realize they’re sick and can unknowingly spread the disease to small kids. All men should get the Tdap vaccine, along with a booster dose every 10 years of the Td (tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine.

MMR: This shot protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, three diseases with varying degrees of fever, coughing, and rashes. Measles was almost wiped out in the U.S., but falling vaccination rates in some communities have made it more common in recent years (remember that Disneyland outbreak?). If you missed the MMR vaccine as a kid, it’s not too late. Talk to a healthcare professional about how many doses you need as an adult.

Hep A and B: Both of these liver infections can cause long-term problems, including cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. If you’re planning to travel to South or Central America, Africa, the Middle East, or India, you should get the Hep A vaccine, since the disease is more common in those areas. Get Hep B if you’ve lived with an infected person, have sex with multiple partners, or have sex with other men, since these behaviors put you at greater risk for the disease.

Your Weekly Dose 6.19: All the Vaccine News You Missed

Measles hits a 16-year high in Australia, a tragic death inspires a lasting legacy, and mountaineers are the unsung vaccine heroes of Nicaragua.

One Infant’s Legacy: Australian newborn Riley Hughes died at 32 days from complications due to pertussis, but his parents have used the heartbreaking story to launch a free vaccination program for pregnant women — more than 3,000 women have received the vaccine since the program began in March. [news.com.au]

Measles Spikes in Australia: At least 340 cases of measles were recorded in Australia this year, marking a 16-year-high in the country. Compare that to 2008, when only 10 people came down with the vaccine-preventable disease. [mamamia]

Get Vaccinated, Chicago: At least three cases of meningitis have been recorded in Chicago, which means one thing—get vaccinated. Particularly at-risk groups include men who have sex with men, and men with HIV. [Washington Blade]

Nicaragua’s Unsung Vaccine HeroesMountaineers are true heroes in Nicaragua, where temperature-sensitive vaccines are delivered to remote villages by horseback (or whatever means necessary). [devex]

The Essential Vaccine Pregnant Women Aren’t GettingA staggering 86 percent of pregnant women aren’t getting their Tdap vaccines, a dose that prevents tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, and is essential to get when a woman is between 27 and 36 weeks pregnant. [Parents.com]

5 Reliable (and Interesting!) Vaccine News Twitter Accounts to Follow Now

Twitter can be a great resource for accurate vaccine information. But with so many people talking about the issue, it’s hard to cut through the noise and know which accounts are reliable. A good place to start (besides us)? These five twitter accounts, which we love for their important insights, lively debates, and (crucially) trustworthy information. Follow them now!

@NFIDVaccines: This is a great one-stop shop for both vaccine news and practical information on keeping your vaccination status up to date. The best part: NFID posts plenty of retweet-worthy info graphics, perfect for keeping your own account fresh.

@Voices4Vaccines: Voices for Vaccines is a group of parents who provide clear, science-based information on immunizations to other parents to combat misinformation. Follow for reliable information about vaccine safety and effectiveness, as well as personal accounts of why vaccination matters.  

@shotofprev: This is the Twitter account for Shot of Prevention, a blog that provides perspectives, personal stories and analysis on vaccination-related news and topics. Watch them for updates on what’s going on in the immunization community and info into timely legislation, such as SB277, the California bill that would require all public and private school students to be vaccinated.

@gavi: Gavi’s Twitter account provides a more global perspective on immunizations and focuses on the many people in developing countries who don’t have access to vaccines at all. The aim: To increase access to immunizations in communities around the world. Follow for news on their work, plus updates on vaccine access in developing nations.

@sabinvaccine: The Sabin Vaccine Institute is working to combat vaccine-preventable and neglected tropical diseases around the globe by promoting existing vaccines and developing new ones. Follow this account for the latest news and research on vaccines and vaccine development.

Looking for more? Check to see if your area’s immunization coalition has a Twitter account for immunization-related news and events in your local community.