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Each year approximately 42,000 adults die from vaccine preventable diseases.  Ongoing surges of negative social media messages increase fear of negative health outcomes causing parents/patients to question the need for vaccines. This uncertainty has been identified as vaccine hesitancy and results in decreased immunization which leads to unnecessary disease outbreaks throughout communities.

“Young parents today have not witnessed the devastation of vaccine preventable diseases that have been greatly reduced with immunizations.  They may feel these diseases are not prevalent and there is no need to vaccinate,” explained Tim Heath, immunization program coordinator at the South Dakota Department of Health (SD DOH).

Ongoing education is needed to combat vaccine hesitancy and increase immunization rates. Heath will provide additional insights on the impact of vaccine hesitancy during a May 7 webinar presentation and offered the following advice for delivering a strong recommendation to individuals and families about vaccines:

  • State which vaccines the child or patient needs to receive.  Do not ask, ‘Do you want these shots today?’  Instead, state, ‘Your child needs three shots today’ and list what they are.
  • Give strong recommendations. ‘I strongly recommend your child gets these vaccines today. These shots are very important to protect them from serious diseases.’  Or, ‘I believe in vaccines so strongly, that I vaccinate my own children on schedule.’
  • Listen to parents and respond to questions they may have.  Most people support vaccination, but some may still have questions.  Providing clarifications to these questions may not mean the parents will not vaccinate their child. They could be lacking the education needed to make the right decision.

Vaccine hesitancy has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the ten threats to global health in 2019, potentially having broad implications reaching beyond the typical vulnerable populations.

“Those with compromised or undeveloped immune systems, including the very young and the elderly populations, are the most vulnerable for infectious disease and the resulting complications.  Without wide-spread vaccination, the healthy majority may be exposing a broad population group and unknowingly start an epidemic,” stated Vicki Palmreuter, program manager for the Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN).

Heath added, “The recent Measles outbreaks in the United States shows why vaccine hesitancy is a threat to global health.   Most of these outbreaks have been in communities that have low vaccination rates.  There has only been one vaccine preventable disease that has been eliminated.  All the others still occur and may only be a plane ride away from arriving in an under-vaccinated population.”

The Great Plains QIN and the Immunization Program at the SD DOH Office of Disease Prevention Services are working with groups including the Rapid City Vaccine Council and the Sioux Falls Area Immunization Coalition to implement the following clinical practice guidelines:

  • ASSESS the immunization status of patients during every clinical encounter
  • PROVIDE a strong recommendation for vaccines that patients need
  • ADMINISTER needed vaccines or at a minimum REFER patients to a provider or pharmacy who immunizes
  • DOCUMENT vaccines patients receive from you or from other providers

Palmreuter and Heath strive to make an impact by providing education and resources to healthcare facilities throughout the state. Learn more about the Great Plains QIN immunization initiative and find state content experts who can provide resources and technical assistance on the website.

“Please do everything you can to prevent vaccine hesitancy,” emphasized Palmreuter. “The higher the vaccination rate in a community, the lower the chances are for a vaccine preventable disease to affect the community.”