Distributing the gift of good health

IMG_3817Offering flu vaccinations when people came to the Salvation Army holiday gift program last year in Syracuse improved vaccination rates so much that authorities plan to make it an annual event.

Upstate pediatricians and medical students decided to target families that registered for the gift program as a way to reach a population with low vaccination rates. Families with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for the gift program.

Some parents decline vaccinations for cultural or religious reasons, or philosophical differences. But a lack of access (no transportation, or no ability to take off work for medical appointments) and a lack of education are the main reasons poor families skip childhood vaccinations, says Joseph Domachowske, MD, a professor of pediatrics specializing in infectious disease.

Researchers wondered if they could increase vaccination rates by educating the families and making vaccines available at the gift program. They provided education along with the pneumococcal vaccine for children age 6 and younger, and the flu vaccine for children of all ages and their family members.

“We met each family individually, and we asked them questions regarding their understanding of routine pediatric vaccines,” recalls Manika Suryadevara, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics also specializing in infectious diseases. Then, researchers checked each child’s vaccination status. Of 1,531 children, just 416 were current with all of their childhood vaccinations. That’s 28 percent.

The results? Among children who attended the gift program, 45 percent were current with all of their childhood vaccinations.

“We found that providing vaccine access for the families at a place where they’re already accessing other services was effective n increasing vaccination rates in this community,” Domachowske says. “It won’t solve the whole problem, but it’s one of those steps toward a solution.”

Their research paper appears in the August 2013 edition of the journal, Pediatrics.

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