A nurse gives a baby a vaccination.

As a society, we've become immune to how vaccinations have improved our world. It wasn't until I went to a third-world country in the late 1980s that I saw the effect of polio, cholera, and tuberculosis—diseases we seldom think about in North America.

For years, most people accepted the importance and safety of vaccines. However, vaccination hesitancy has increased with the rise of social media. Think about how COVID-19 vaccination discussions have divided our nation and families.

As a nurse, people probably ask for your opinion on vaccines, and you may even be swaying between one end of the spectrum or the other. Why do they ask? Because your opinion matters to them. Nurses continue to garner the highest rating for honesty and ethics in the annual Gallup poll.

National Immunization Awareness Month

August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). The National Public Health Information Coalition first observed NIAM in 2013 to educate families on how vaccines can protect children. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention champions NIAM to highlight the importance of routine vaccination for people of all ages.

An illustration that explains how the World Health Organization declared the Western Hemisphere polio-free in August 1994, making August the perfect time to recognize NIAM.

5 Main Vaccine Types

Let's do a quick review of the five main vaccine types that most nurses are familiar with:

  1. Inactivated vaccines contain a dead version of the germ or virus. Boosters are often needed for ongoing immunity. Examples are the flu shot and the Hepatitis A vaccine.

  2. Live-attenuated vaccines contain a weakened virus or germ. One or two doses give excellent immunity for life. The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and chickenpox vaccines are examples.

  3. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, in the case of COVID, deliver a message to the body's cells to make a spike protein that mimics the real spike of the COVID virus, triggering the body to launch an immune response.

  4. Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines inject a piece of the germ or virus into the body to trigger an immune response. These vaccines are safe for patients with chronic illnesses but may need a booster to maintain immunity. Examples are the whooping cough and shingles vaccines.

  5. Toxoid vaccines use toxins produced by the virus/germ. Boosters are needed. Examples are the diphtheria and tetanus vaccines.

Are Vaccines Safe?

Every vaccine developed in the United States goes through rigorous testing, including three phases of clinical trials, to ensure they're as safe and effective as possible. Before a vaccine gets administered to the public, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must license (approve) it.

Following FDA approval, vaccines are closely monitored as people start using them. By doing so, we can watch for possible side effects and ensure the vaccine's benefits outweigh the risks. After all, even large clinical trials may not be big enough to reveal side effects that only happen sometimes. For example, a side effect might occur in 1 in 500,000 people.

In the event of a pandemic, such as COVID-19, an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) may be requested. The manufacturers must provide information about the quality and consistency of the vaccine and submit their data from the first two clinical trials, with the third already underway.

An illustration that explains how vaccinations changed our world. The first successful vaccine created in 1796 was for smallpox, an illness with a 30% mortality rate that devastated the body. Effective vaccines from the 1950s and 1960s helped eradicate polio, a disease that left many children paralyzed and unable to breathe.

5 Ways Nurses Can Promote Vaccinations

Nursing is an influential and respected profession that can raise awareness and promote vaccination delivery to the public. Here are five ways nurses can influence vaccine delivery:

  1. Frontline Advocacy: Nurses have direct contact with patients and their families in many healthcare settings. We need to discuss the importance of vaccines, ask our patients about their immunization status, and encourage vaccine acceptance. 

  2. Safety and Efficacy Education: Learn about the different vaccines to speak knowledgeably and confidently about their safety and efficacy. Discuss the normal side effects of vaccines with patients and how to deal with them. Help patients explore their hesitancy and use scientific data to help remove doubt. Don't brush off concerns of adverse events.

  3. Honest Discussions: People are casting aside paternalistic healthcare and seeking honest discussions about vaccines. So, take the time to listen to patient concerns and be transparent with your answers. Treating someone with disdain will only increase their distrust of vaccines. It's also worth talking about immunocompromised individuals who can't get vaccinated and depend on others to achieve herd immunity.

  4. Vaccine Administration: If you've got training in vaccine administration, be sure to use the correct vaccination protocol without fail. Maintain a relaxed environment, take the time to ask the patient about their current health status, and address their concerns before administering the vaccine.

  5. Healthcare and Community Collaborations: Make getting a vaccine easy. Be creative about education. Ask your grocery store and community centers if you can put up posters and have a vaccine clinic. Advise patients that they can receive influenza and COVID-19 at many pharmacies. Public health nurses can expedite vaccine delivery by providing vaccines in schools.

3 Emerging Trends in Vaccine Promotion

We must stay current with educating the public and promoting vaccine awareness and delivery. Here are some considerations:

  1. Leverage Technology and Social Media: How do we reach a population that doesn't have family doctors and traditional yearly physician visits have fallen by the wayside? Technology, of course! Everyone is plugged into their phones, and most have unlimited access to the Internet. Nurses could levy the government to buy advertisement space on various media platforms to promote vaccine education and delivery.

  2. Incorporate Telehealth: During the pandemic, virtual appointments became popular when physician offices were closed. Virtual appointments continue to gain momentum in areas lacking physicians, with pop-up virtual clinics led by nurse practitioners. Nurses can use telehealth appointments with patients to discuss vaccine hesitancy, promote education, and tell them where they can receive vaccines.

  3. Engage With Diverse Communities: Racial and cultural disparities negatively impact vaccine education and delivery. Distrust of the medical system, inability to understand English, and lack of financial support mean that many marginalized people in the United States aren't current with their vaccines. Designing a digital health system that includes multiple language options, combined with a range of choices for communication, such as SMS texting, should be considered and integrated with mobile health units to bring vaccines to people.

Vaccination Concerns Since COVID

Approximately 128,000 people died unnecessarily of measles in 2021. Why? The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for people to access standard vaccines for their children and themselves, with physician offices being closed or inaccessible.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 vaccine raised vaccine fears and hesitancy. Many children haven't received their primary booster set, and herd immunity is waning—a serious blow to world health. But nurses can help get us back into vaccine readiness and acceptance. 

Getting Back on Track

Nurses play a crucial role in getting the country back on track with vaccines—even making a difference in achieving world health. So, let's stand united and support our National Immunization Awareness Month.