Let's Talk Immunization

By: Mackenzie Melton and Izzy Brandstetter, WithinReach Immunization Experts

If you’re like us, your summer has been jam-packed with family vacations, escaping the sweltering heat, and a bit of relaxing, too! It’s not all fun and games though. As an immunizer or immunization promoter, the summer is often the busiest time of the year with parents rushing to get their kids up to date before the new school year begins. Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month, we felt it’s only appropriate to highlight why the rush and overwhelm to immunize, in the summer months especially, are so crucial to maintaining health and wellness among our families and throughout our communities.
With children spending the majority of the day together in a classroom during the year, it’s also the optimal breeding ground for many bacteria and viruses that can cause serious illness. Fortunately, a large portion of these illnesses can be prevented through routine immunizations. And for those with pre-existing health conditions that hinder them from being immunized themselves, we vaccinate so that they can be protected from illness, and benefit from community immunity.

In Washington State, the majority of us vaccinate ourselves and our families. School immunization data from the 2017-2018 school year shows that 90.6% of kindergarteners are up to date on their MMR vaccine and 85.7% of kindergarteners are up to date on all of their required immunizations— putting us one-step closer to achieving the national Healthy People 2020 goal of 95% of kindergarteners being fully vaccinated. And when outbreaks do occur, it’s a great reminder for all of us that there is still much more work to be done to protect our communities and eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases.

As public health professionals, the easiest way we can model positive health behavior is to get ourselves vaccinated, to speak positively and openly about vaccines and their benefits, and most importantly to listen to the concerns of parents and communities. With immunizations becoming such a hot topic over the last few years, whether among the media, public health sector, medical realm or general public; it’s spotlighted most when a disease outbreak or the threat of one is at play. With that, we know it has caused confusion and disputes that often make immunizations a difficult conversation to have. So, we hope the below recommendations are helpful as you strive to maintain the health and safety of your community through vaccination!

How can we achieve immunity communities?

  1. Make sure your whole family is current on immunizations. We know that community immunity is the overall best protection, and that the incidence of disease outbreaks sharply decreases when we all vaccinate. Ask your healthcare provider whether you have all the recommended vaccines— and remember adults need immunizations too! For help finding an immunization provider, you can contact our WithinReach Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit our ParentHelp123 website.

  1. Be a positive voice for immunizations and advocate for vaccines. Speak up for vaccines! Vaccines shouldn’t be a taboo topic but rather a badge of honor and an important part of preventative health. Tell others why you immunize and why you think it is important to your community. Posting stories about your own experiences with vaccines on social media is a great way to show your support. (Like WithinReach on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or look through our blog for great news and facts to share.) There are also tools available to find the immunization rates in your community. Once you have that information, what does it tell you? Is your community protected? If there was a measles, or whooping cough outbreak, what could you do to ensure you and your community is safe and protected from diseases? Find the answers on our ImmunityCommunityWA.org website.

  2. Use evidence-based communication strategies to effectively talk about vaccines. Information is powerful, and we want to assist healthcare professionals and parents who encounter challenging vaccine conversations. From our involvement in the Vax Northwest Partnership, WithinReach has been part of a robust team of experts in the field of vaccine communication research. Together we have developed and tested several helpful guides on approaching the subject of vaccines so that the conversation can be fruitful and respectful.

For healthcare professionals talking with their patients, use the Recommend, Ask, Acknowledge and Advise method. The best tool for parents to talk about immunizations with their peers is called the HEART method (Hear, Empathize, Analyze, Resources, Tell). Repeat this method with every concern they raise. Make sure to start over at the “Hear” stage to ensure you are answering their specific questions. Even if they share an anecdotal story of their own, really listen to their fear and try to understand their root concern.

So, in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, consider strengthening an immunity community of your own! Have the courage to ask family members if they are up to date on their vaccines! Ask them if they got their annual flu vaccine, or if they’re planning to immunize their newborn. In having conversations with hesitant individuals, we’ve found that many don’t feel their fears are heard and acknowledged, and they often receive information from sources that are not credible. Listening with an open, non-judgmental mindset and educating hesitant individuals on the benefits of vaccines is significant for all of us. Use the tools above and if the going gets tough, remember that as a supporter of immunizations, you represent the majority, and your efforts are paramount to maintaining healthy and safe communities for all.

WithinReach is a leader in building healthy communities in Washington State. We have been a trusted link between community-based health resources, providers, and families statewide for 30 years. We are proud of our longstanding work in the immunization sphere. WithinReach has convened the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington for 24 years, led the work on two vaccine hesitancy initiatives through our partnership with Vax Northwest, and continues to activate passionate parents, educate professionals and the media, engage community partners, and protect our community from diseases that vaccines prevent. Stay up-to-date on the work we are doing by joining our monthly newsletter. Email [email protected] if you any questions!

Past blogs

Rethinking Our Approach for Urban Indian Studies
By Adrian Dominguez, MS and Rose James, PhD
Urban Indian Health Institute, Seattle Indian Health Board

July 1, 2018
American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities have an understandable mistrust of research.  This stems from the misleading efforts by non-Native scientists to assess American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities and the drawing of pre-conceived outcomes and descriptions that would support the genocide of a community that was once believed to be inferior, barbaric, savage-like, and uncivilized. Practices involved deception, dishonesty, and trickery, resulting in physical harm, such as radiation studies among AI/AN people presented as clinical care and the forced sterilization of AI/AN females.As non-Native scientists completed their research, they reported findings that were inaccurate, false, and unreliable, and that paved the road to openly stigmatize and misrepresent AI/ANs. Read more. 

Summer Break with or without Hunger
By Debra French, Director, WSPHA Board of Directors

June 1, 2018

Schools out and its summer break, for many a time for relaxation, vacations, fun and some sunshine but for some, it’s a bit more stressful.  Millions of children who rely on free and reduced-priced school breakfast and lunch during the school year, lose access to those meals when summer break begins. The federal government provides funding for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) both are key to bringing nutritious meals and snacks to children during the summer months. Read more.


Adverse Childhood Experiences and Public Health
By Amy Person, MD, Director, WSPHA Board of Directors

mental health

May 1, 2018
Behavioral health disorders are common – but what role can public health play? One in eight adults in Washington State reports poor mental health and one in three Washington 10th graders reports depressive feelings. We cannot achieve the highest health potential for individuals, families or communities without including behavioral health as a public health priority. Applying the public health model to behavioral health can also shift the focus to include primary prevention as well as improving access to treatment. Read more

Celebrating National Public Health Week
By Ginny Weir, MPH, Director, Bree Collaborative

April 1, 2018
Public health is essential to building a healthier Washington and stands on foundational public health services like chronic disease and injury prevention, maternal and child family health, access to clinical care, environmental public health, vital records, and communicable disease control. Although Public health week has already passed, there are still plenty of ways to get involved and advocate for a healthy community. Read more.

Legislative Education Day: What Comes Next?
By Heather Thomas, MPA, Public & Government Affairs Manager, Snohomish Health District

March 1, 2018

On February 7, more than 150 public health ambassadors from around the state gathered in Olympia for our annual WSPHA Legislative Education Day. The morning session kicked off with a welcome from WSPHA president David Reyes, followed by remarks from Secretary of Health John Wiesman. Secretary Wiesman shared his perspectives on a variety of public health issues at the state and federal level. Read more

Legislative Education Day
By Anne  Burkland, Government Relations Specialist, Public Health Seattle and King County
February 1, 2018
Join public health officials from across the state and have your voice heard at our annual legislative education day on February 7, 2018.Your day will begin with Secretary of Health John Wiesman. You’ll also hear from state lawmakers and your colleagues who are leading the charge for more funding dedicated to public health. You’ll be provided talking points and an opportunity to develop and practice the key messages you want your representatives to hear. Read more 

The Opioid Epidemic in Washington
By Ginny Weir, Program Director, Dr. Robert Bree Collaborative
January 1, 2018
The opioid epidemic has impacted every community in Washington State. Across the country, opioid overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death. But some counties are hit harder than others and disparities exist between how racial and ethnic groups are burdened with the epidemic. Solutions must be both based in local communities and supported across the state. Our Washington state opioid response plan calls on all of us, state government agencies, local health departments, professional groups, community organizations, health care systems, and others to work together on priority areas. Read more