Vaccines are one of the most important and cost-effective tools we have when it comes to controlling and preventing the spread of disease. Yet immunization rates have dropped in the U.S., leading to outbreaks of preventable illnesses.
Estimates show that around 20 million illnesses and more than 40,000 deaths are prevented with each generation of children that receives their recommended immunizations, according to a 2016 report in Pharmacy & Therapeutics. While we're relatively good about getting our young ones vaccinated – rates of immunization in children 19 to 35 months old range from 91.6 percent to 94.7 percent for four of the most commonly recommended vaccines – those rates drop for adolescents. Additionally, approximately 50,000 adults die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
The overall immunization rate in the U.S. is admirable on a global scale, but there is certainly room for improvement, especially given the backslide in recent years. Immunization rates also vary by state, exposing a system that sufficiently protects some groups while leaving others vulnerable.
In lieu of a centralized immunization system, the U.S. relies on a complex collaboration involving government agencies (federal, state and local), vaccine manufacturers, healthcare systems, provider associations, payers (e.g. Medicare, Medicaid and private health plans), and other stakeholders to produce, pay, coordinate and advocate for immunizations. But the administration of immunizations is largely done through programs at the state, local, health system or provider level.
Improving immunization programs takes a collective effort, but in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month this August, here are some ideas for where to start.