For many nurses, August is a whirlwind of back-to-school activity. And it’s not just the crunch of shopping for school supplies, new clothes, or that elusive trendy lunch box.
August is a key month for immunizations. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes August as National Immunization Awareness Month. Nurses are a vital part of ensuring our nation maintains appropriate vaccination coverage, as they have a key role in almost every aspect of vaccines – from administration to documentation to education to policy to advocacy. Vaccines, one of the greatest public health achievements of the last 100 years, are critical to ensuring our nation stays healthy, productive, and safe.
That makes August a busy month. School nurses are busy checking vaccine records of new students or new-entry students (such as sixth and ninth graders) and advising those that aren’t up to date. Pediatric nurses and advanced practice nurses are ensuring that their patients meet all state immunization requirements and vaccinating those that don’t. All the while, influenza season is right around the corner, and hospital and public health nurses are gearing up for flu vaccination programs for staff and patients.
Many nurses are involved with back-to-school immunization activities for children. In some cases, they may be ensuring their own children have the vaccines they need to start or continue in school. (Look up your state to see what vaccine requirements students must meet.) Traditionally, kindergarten entry marked the final time students needed immunizations, since this is when most children finish the childhood vaccine series. However, many states have introduced sixth grade entry requirements, most notably for a booster dose of pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
National Immunization Awareness Month is also a great opportunity to assess for vaccines that are recommended for children and adolescents, but not necessarily required for school. These include hepatitis A, meningococcal, human papilloma virus (for girls). Nurses are in a position to educate about these vaccines, especially for adolescents who may not be getting routine immunization screenings.
While the flurry of activity involving back-to-school time for kids, it’s also a time for adults to reflect on what vaccines they may need to stay healthy and protect their families and communities. The pertussis epidemic in California continues, and has now claimed the lives of six infants. In many cases, an adult with pertussis – which presents as a nagging cold – passed the disease to the infant. Now Pertussis epidemics and outbreaks are occurring in many other states. Nurses, especially those caring for newborns or infants – as patients or their own children – should be sure that they have received a dose of Tdap. ANA and other health care provider groups are urging that providers get vaccinated, and vaccinate their patients or refer them to places to be vaccinated.
On the horizon, September marks the beginning of influenza season. After the tremendous activity and, unfortunately, confusion around the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, nurses need to be ready to answer questions from their colleagues, patients, and communities about preventing influenza. There are two main differences about the vaccine for this influenza season from last year: First, there will be only one seasonal influenza vaccine. The 2009 H1N1 strain was included in the trivalent seasonal vaccine, unlike last year where there were two separate vaccines. 2009 H1N1 is expected to be a dominant influenza strain and to cause a higher proportion of influenza illness, thus the inclusion in the seasonal vaccine. Second, influenza vaccine is recommended “universally” for everyone six months of age and older. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – of which ANA is a liaison member – took a bold step earlier this year by voting to eliminate the high-risk group categories, to simplify the recommendation and reduce confusion. The goal for universal recommendations is higher vaccination rates and better coverage for influenza prevention. While this new recommendation might put strain on the vaccine supply, manufacturers have committed to producing more vaccine, and hope to avoid some of the supply issues of last fall that hampered the pandemic response.
One thing that won’t be different this year is the need for nurses to be vaccinated. ANA believes that nurses have a professional and ethical obligation to be vaccinated. It is a patient safety strategy, an occupational health protection, and the best way to prevent illness and even death in the community. Nurses serve as role models to their patients, their families, their communities, and other health professionals. By being vaccinated, the nurse can inspire all those groups to do the same. Check out all the vaccines recommended for health care workers.
To honor those nurses demonstrating leadership, creativity, and innovation in vaccine programs and delivery, ANA has introduced the Immunity Award. If you know someone that has provided excellence in immunization, consider nominating him or her for this monthly award. Information about the award and the nomination form are available at www.anaimmunize.org/immunityaward, and winners are featured on ANA’s dedicated immunization website – anaimmunize.org – and in the biweekly immunization newsletter for nurses ANA ImmuNews. The first winner will be announced in September, so send your nomination in today.
During August and National Immunization Awareness Month, ANA salutes all nurses doing their part to sustain a healthy, vaccinated America.
Katie Brewer is a senior policy analyst at ANA.