National Immunization Awareness Month: Addressing Gaps in Child Immunizations

August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), a month dedicated to highlighting the importance of vaccinations for people of all ages. NIAM is a great opportunity for employers to support their employees who would like to have their children vaccinated both for routine immunizations and COVID-19.

With summer ending, many families and schools are preparing for the start of the school year. Catching up with child routine vaccinations and vaccinating eligible children with the COVID-19 vaccine can help minimize the spread of many diseases, including the coronavirus.

Globally , immunization rates for measles, polio and other vaccine-preventable illnesses have been negatively impacted. A World Health Organization (WHO) survey found that more than a third of responding countries still report disruptions in their routine immunization services due to the global pandemic.1

Furthermore, according to the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, having multiple disease outbreaks will place a burden on communities and health systems that are already struggling with COVID-19.2 Therefore, ensuring that children receive all routine vaccinations is becoming more essential.

Currently, there are increased concerns regarding rising COVID-19 infections in children. Child infections of the coronavirus have increased since the beginning of July 2021 after declining in the early summer. There have been 180,175 cases of COVID-19 in children between the second and third week of August 2021 alone and, children represented 22.4% of COVID-19 cases that week.3

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children between 12-17 should receive the COVID-19 vaccine to help reduce the spread of the more virulent form of the virus and reduce the chances of becoming seriously sick.4 COVID-19 vaccinations for children under 12 may also be a possibility in the upcoming months; clinical trials are underway for children ages 6 months to 11 years old.

What Can Employers Do

With many children returning to school soon, National Immunization Awareness Month is a good time for employers to step up their communication efforts, help make child vaccinations more feasible for employees seeking them, emphasize the importance of child routine vaccines and, in the U.S., remind employees that routine vaccines are covered at 100% as preventive care.

Here are some actions employers may consider when supporting vaccinations among employees and their children:

Culturally Conscious Messaging: Employers should be cognizant of employee concerns about COVID vaccinations. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study showed parents’ intentions to vaccinate themselves largely aligned with whether they would vaccinate their children.5 Fifty-eight percent of parents in that study who did not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine also did not want their children to be vaccinated or would only vaccinate their children if required. Employers can continue to address such concerns by supplying fact-based information and key resources that address concerns and myths about specific vaccines and vaccines in general. For instance, sharing empirical evidence on COVID-19 vaccines’ efficacy can be helpful for employees who have limited understanding or require evidence that vaccines are safe.6 Some reputable sources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the World Health Organization (WHO), among others. Providing vaccine resources in multiple languages can ensure better access to this information by employees and their family members.

A KFF July 2021 study found that among the seven U.S. states reporting COVID-19 vaccination data by race/ethnicity for children ages 12-17, White children had a higher vaccination rate than Black children in all states, underscoring the importance of culturally conscious vaccine messaging.7

Offering time off and facilitating access to vaccination appointments: Flexible working hours can assist employees who may need time off to bring their children for routine vaccinations. Providing flexible scheduling as well as offering remote workdays when appropriate gives employees more options to organize vaccination appointments. In addition, offering transportation vouchers for ridesharing applications or public transit passes may help low-income employees reach their health appointments without any cost barriers.

Reminding employees about insurance coverage for vaccinations: In the U.S., employers can remind their employees that their comprehensive health insurance includes coverage for preventive services and vaccinations, with no member cost sharing. In non-U.S. locations, checking to see if vaccines are covered by either private or national/state health care systems is helpful in seeing if vaccine utilization is possible for employees. Partnering with local health care plans to ensure that employees have coverage for routine immunizations can facilitate vaccinations for employees’ children without cost barriers.

Finally, employers can also utilize a toolkit designed by Health Action Alliance on recommendations and resources to share with employees on child vaccinations.8

With routine immunizations declining and COVID-19 vulnerability rising among children, increased illnesses in children are of concern. Employer resource mobilization and focused messaging efforts can aid in improving the well-being and livelihood of many families during the pandemic and beyond.