By Sylvia Garcia-Houchins, MSN, RN, CIC, director of Infection Prevention and Control
Every year, I blog on the importance of getting a flu vaccine and this year the message couldn’t be more important.The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for flu shots to avoid overwhelming the hospital system with COVID-19 and flu patients at the same time, a “twindemic” as it’s called in the media.
This year, I am not only concerned with flu shots but routine vaccination rates. Demand for routine childhood vaccines such as those for measles has decreased dramatically during this pandemic and vaccination rates for adults ≥ 65 years dropped 83% compared to last year and vaccination rates for those 19-49 dropped more than 60%.
Even though the threat of COVID-19 is still very real, it’s important to the health of communities throughout the United States to get vaccinations back on track. The CDC has emphasized that although we currently have many disease vaccine preventable diseases under control a resurgence could occur such as the one we saw with measles in 2019. Coronavirus is not the only issue for our young adults heading back to college – meningococcal disease which can be prevented by a vaccination is a very real threat in this group.
The Joint Commission has joined in the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ Keep Up the Rates campaign engaging national experts and leading public health organizations to reach populations most at risk of delaying vaccinations or experiencing complications from vaccine-preventable diseases.
We need to educate against the common misperception that most vaccinations are only for babies and the elderly. In the United States, 1 in 3 pertussis cases occur in adolescents ages 11-19. Meningococcal disease carries a 10-15% mortality rate and 21% of U.S. cases occur in individuals ages 11-24. The human papillomavius (HPV) vaccine which is recommended for anyone through age 26 and some people who are at higher risk through age 45 prevents cancer causing infections and pre-cancers.
Pediatric Vaccination Issues
Of particular concern is the idea that children are not being adequately protected from 16 preventable diseases, including:
- hepatitis A
- meningococcal meningitis
- whooping cough
- hepatitis B
- Hemophilus influenza type b
Protecting Adults from Vaccine Preventable Diseases
Vaccine preventable disease can cause serious illness, hospitalizations and death. They may also lead to long term complications and put a vulnerable family member, significant other or friend at risk. For example,
- Shingles, which is caused by the chickenpox virus, can lead to severe pain called post-herpetic neuralgia or other painful complications that could persist for years.
- Hepatitis B infection, which can be spread by sharing personal items like toothbrushes and razors with someone who is unknowingly infected, can lead to liver cancer.
- Whooping cough, which usually leads to mild disease in adults, could put babies who are too young for vaccination at risk for severe illness and death.
Join the Campaign
We invite you to join us in our mission to educate Americans about the importance of maintaining a vaccine schedule. The Keep Up website has a number of great assets, such as infographics, public service announcements and sample content to share with your family, friends and patients.
It’s essential that we all do our part in promoting the importance of maintaining a normal vaccination schedule. We’ve worked so hard to prevent COVID-19 transmission and look forward to a vaccine to protect the world from it, but we cannot lose sight of the vaccine preventable diseases that we have successfully eliminated or decreased through careful attention to timely vaccination.
Sylvia Garcia-Houchins is the director of Infection Prevention and Control in the Division of Healthcare Improvement at The Joint Commission. Garcia-Houchins has over 30 years of experience in infection control in both hospital and long-term care settings, as well as eight years of clinical microbiology experience. Most recently, she served as the director of Infection Control at the University of Chicago Medicine and was also an intermittent consultant for Joint Commission Resources, Inc.