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Working to Make Vaccines Everybody’s Business

This week I attended the screening of the documentary “Everybody’s Business” with our Immunization team. This screening came after the CDC’s annual release of data about immunization practices among children under age three.  The data shows that in Washington just 65% of children in this age range are fully immunized per the recommended schedule, versus a national average of 68%, and a national goal of 80%.  So, we’re behind no matter what metric you use.

The documentary provided a glimpse into the real world debate about vaccination through the back drop of Vashon Island. Vashon has one of lowest immunization rates in the state of Washington. The documentary did a terrific job of laying out the struggles that families are facing. However, at the core of the debate was the sincere desire of parents to protect their children.

It raised a central question for me–where does the individual right intersect with the greater good? This is a hard debate, made harder by the fact that every Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, Uncle is trying to make the best decision support the growth and development of their children.

At WithinReach, we know that, like everything in life, vaccines carry some risks, but not the risks the anti-vaccine movement often claims.  Vaccines do not cause autism or other developmental delays, they do not contain toxins, and the so-called ‘alternative schedules’ only increase risk.

Let’s not forget, ALL of us are at increased risk of contracting vaccine preventable diseases, and even if we’re vaccinated, children who are too young to be immunized and others who are immune-compromised (people with diseases or the elderly, for instance)  are particularly at risk.  We’ve seen several cases of measles in the state this year; pertussis and flu are persistent problems too.  These can be deadly to anyone with vulnerable health status.  I remember when I was nervous about giving my 8 week old baby his immunizations and the nurse said,“We live in a port city, your child is going to be exposed to so many things, help minimize his risk, get your immunizations.”

At WithinReach, we do not think it is okay that only 65% of kids are being fully vaccinated. For years we’ve been working on ways to increase parent education and action to make sure kids get their immunizations. Over the last couple of years we’ve gotten even more serious. We’ve been working with several other key community advocates through VAX Northwest: Group Health, Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Department of Health, and BestStart Washington to launch two initiatives with the goal of making timely immunization the social norm again:

The Immunity Community mobilizes parents who value vaccines (as most do!) to increase the positive chatter about vaccines in places where their children spend time: schools, child care centers and preschools.  This pilot project recognizes that parents obtain information through social networks, so immunization-positive chatter needs to be present in these conversations (typically anti-vaccine people are the only ones who make themselves heard).  We’re testing this approach at many sites in the Northshore area and in the city of Bellingham.

The Let’s Talk Vaccines project recognizes that parents most often make their immunization decisions based on the advice of their child’s health care provider, but providers often go about immunization conversations the wrong way.  When parents are stressed or concerned (as they often are about vaccines), they respond more strongly to empathy than they do to hard science.  So, this intervention teaches physicians to lead with empathy, attentive listening, and unifying around common goals (healthy kids)—all with the goal of building trusting relationships.  Once trust is firmly established, parents are more likely to listen to their physician about ANY topic, but particularly vaccines.  We’ll have results from this study in early 2014.

Vax NW has raised over $1.5 million to support the projects above. And we’re not just trying these things out–they are part of a rigorous evaluation process to see if it really works. I’m super proud of this work, and to be a national leader in our efforts.  As we head into flu season, I hope you are doing your part to keep Washington healthy.

Tags: Autism   Everybody's Business   Immunity Community   immunizations   Pro Vaccine   vaccines   Vashon Island   Vax Northwest   

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