English doctor Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine in the late 18th century, according to an article published in the medical journal Frontiers in Immunology. Jenner injected nine people with the cowpox virus in an effort to immunize them against its more acute cousin smallpox, which accounted for roughly 10 percent of all deaths recorded throughout the 1700s. Four individuals managed to process the infection and build natural immunities to smallpox, a phenomenon Jenner covered in a landmark 1798 study — the first open-access immunology report published.
In the years since, immunization has prevented millions of deaths, based on research from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Children’s Vaccine Initiative. The practice has eradicated smallpox and drastically reduced instances of diphtheria, whooping cough and other sicknesses that once claimed lives across the globe. Despite these developments, blanket immunization has yet to materialize. The WHO estimated that 86 percent of infants worldwide received the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine in 2016, signaling a stall in the global vaccination rate. Additionally, parents in developed nations have begun to question immunization, further complicating matters.
American health care organizations are working to address these issues by empowering the registered nurses who work in hospitals and wards across the country to advocate for immunization adherence. Of course, this practice is easier said than done. How can these health care professionals actively encourage vaccination without unnerving anxious parents? Following are some effective strategies for achieving this goal:
Embrace organizational immunization missions
Nursing leaders often assume their staff members are aligned when it comes to fundamental public health concerns such as immunization. While nurses might uniformly agree with the concept, they may go about advocating it using disparate messaging or techniques. This approach could lead to some success. However, nursing leaders can achieve more by developing and rolling out unified immunization missions, North Carolina Public Health found.
Normally, registered nurses in charge of immunization efforts design vaccine advocacy best practices that cover everything from patient communication to procedural details. During the mission-setting stage, nursing administrators should also put together accountability programs to ensure group cohesion, which might include centralized vaccination monitoring or scheduling components. In the end, these efforts not only improve operations but also promote accurate knowledge-sharing that instills confidence in patients and their parents.
Talk through informational materials
Under the National Vaccine Childhood Injury Act passed in 1986, all health care providers offering immunization services must provide patients with Vaccine Information Sheets (VIS), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These documents offer essential information on vaccines, including their benefits and risks. VIS documents also include statements clarifying the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which allows individuals who believe they have been injured as a result of vaccines to seek damages without navigating the legal system, as noted by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Providers are required to distribute these materials to all patients prior to vaccination. For a long time, this requirement meant handing out hard copies, but in recent years, providers have opted for more modern methods — including digital distribution — that not only ease operations but bolster consumption.
Nursing staff can leverage these seemingly mundane documents to encourage immunization adherence. Instead of handing out VIS sheets and leaving parents alone to peruse them, nursing staff should carefully go over the content covered in the materials and be there to answer any questions. This method gives guardians the opportunity to consume factual vaccine data and talk through their concerns, rather than internalizing them and refusing immunization based on assumptions or misunderstandings.
Expand on the benefits
Even when reviewing accurate VIS documents that include robust benefits sections, parents tend to gravitate toward the portions outlining possible risks, which is a perfectly valid response. However, when it comes to immunization, the rewards vastly outweigh the few risks that exist for most individuals. The practice saves between 2 and 3 million lives per year, the WHO reported. Comparatively, the number of deaths associated with vaccines is so low that scientists cannot accurately analyze risk statistically.
Today, the protective powers of vaccines are increasingly important as diseases once nearing complete eradication are coming back. For example, the number of measles cases in the U.S. has risen dramatically in recent years, with the majority of patients contracting the disease identifying as unvaccinated, analysts for the CDC found.
Nurses should use recent examples like the increase in measles to expand on immunization’s benefits, which are well-documented and undeniable. Instead of dismissing parents’ fears and moving forward, health care professionals should make their cases in detail and contextualize vaccine efficacy.
Address misconceptions head-on
Some parents confront care providers with sensational claims regarding immunization — most notably, that it causes autism in children. A growing number of parents are also telling pediatricians vaccination is unnecessary, based on research from the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 2013, the organization surveyed more than 600 pediatricians across the country, asking them to offer insight into immunization scheduling requests submitted by parents. An estimated 73 percent said guardians that had decided to opt their children out of certain vaccines did so in the belief that the vaccines were unnecessary. Approximately 64 percent of respondents said parents attributed such changes to fears surrounding autism.
Countless studies on vaccine effectiveness have debunked these notions, such as one from Japanese researchers published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, yet parents continue to take them at face value. Nurses encouraging immunization adherence must confront misconceptions head-on and offer hard data that quash unsubstantiated claims.
Apart from adopting these strategies, registered nurses can gain the skills and knowledge needed to further immunization adherence efforts by enrolling in Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. As students in the program, registered nurses can expand their knowledge on a wide range of topics, from ethical and legal issues in health care to statistical procedures, all without stepping foot on campus.
The online MSN program at Bradley is the ideal choice for registered nurses hoping to move upward mid-career and expand their skill sets so as to better serve their patients. Prospective students can find more information on the program at the Bradley University website.