Transcript of Get Ready Report Podcast, episode 32

This is the American Public Health Association’s Get Ready Report, coming to you from Washington D.C. Today’s episode, “Immunization awareness,” interviews Dr. Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program Office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He is interviewed by Get Ready team member Daniel Greenberg.  

Every August, National Immunization Awareness Month provides an opportunity to highlight the need for improving national immunization coverage levels. Activities focus on encouraging people to protect their health by getting immunizations against infectious diseases. Thanks so much for being on with us, Dr. Gellin.

Great, thanks for having me.

National Immunization Awareness Month is about getting more people of all ages vaccinated for infectious diseases. How could healthy leaders like yourself and APHA spread the word to as many Americans as possible?

First of all, doing a (podcast) like this highlights the importance of immunizations and public health in general. And obviously that’s the type of thing APHA stands for. So I give you a lot of credit for organizing this and helping get that word out. Traditionally, people thought about this time of year as “back to school,” doing a lot of things to get ready for school. And among those is making sure that immunizations are up to date for school.

But it was also an opportunity to think about immunizations more generally, and in the same time that parents are taking their kids to the doctors or to health clinics to make sure that they are ready for school, it’s a chance for everybody to review the situation with their own immunizations, to make sure they are up to date. Because vaccines aren’t only for kids. In fact, now they are now used across the lifespan. Not just for kids but adults, pregnant women, adolescence. And I think it’s a chance to, at this time of year, to think about immunizations and make sure that we are all as protected as we can be.

Thanks so much. You allude to people of all ages getting immunizations. But they're often harder to get in some areas of the country. Do all Americans have access to immunizations? Such as people in small and low-income communities?

This is an important point. In the past, there have been some times as to when vaccines were hard to get. We hear this often during the flu season, when vaccines don’t seem to be available everywhere where people need to get them. Our national supply of immunizations is really quite robust and we are less concerned about disruptions in supply and the availability of vaccines nationally. That said, locally is what matters and people sometimes talk about difficulty finding a vaccine or having access to a vaccine. I think that probably the conversation should begin with your health care provider about vaccines are needed at each of these stages of life, for children, for adults for pregnant women, for adolescents. And then to make sure that the vaccines are available at the time when people can come to get them. For adults more than for children, the pharmacies have now recognized and they can provide that service as well. The pharmacies around the country are now offering vaccines, particularly for adults, not only for flu but also for adults more broadly and not just influenza.

It’s the middle of August, which means that all across the U.S. children and teens are getting ready to go back to school. What sicknesses would you recommend students and their parents get vaccinated for right now?

As you mention, the idea of National Immunization Awareness Month is the recognition that vaccines, while often a part of getting ready for school, are a time for people to make sure that all their vaccines are up to date. I think it’s important that people have an understanding of what vaccines are available and the diseases that they prevent with vaccinations. There are different vaccines that are recommended for different populations. For children, adults, adolescents, pregnant women and older adults.

I think that probably the most important thing is that people should have an understanding of what exactly these vaccines are. For example, for children vaccines prevent 14 serious infections and their complications. (There is a) different package of vaccines for adolescents and for adults. Rather than talking about the specific diseases, and we can go into some of those specifics, I think this is an opportunity to look into immunizations more broadly. And that information is readily available. is a centralized government website that can get you that information you need. And I think when people get into that they should look at the various vaccines that are available for various populations. For children, for adolescents, for adults and often for special populations. And even for people who are traveling, because often people will need vaccines for some of the places that they are going that may be apart of the routine vaccine or may be special vaccines for travelers. But overall, the idea that vaccines are very effective and safe ways to prevent serious infections and people should know what those infections are and how they can best prevent them with vaccination.

And you talk about there being any number of vaccinations available for any number of diseases and I know that when I was younger, I would get my flu shot near the start of the school year. Is this the best time for people to get their flu shots?

It’s a great question, because I’m sure that we’ll all see soon is that flu shots are being advertised a variety of places. Not only in your doctor office, but in the communities more broadly, whether they're in drug stores or grocery stores. The flu shot has changed every year. (It’s) designed to protect against the virus strains that are most likely to cause flu. Which is why they have to be revisited every year. (Vaccines) are manufactured during the winter, between January and July, so they are available now. And the point is that people should be vaccinated before flu comes to your community. Hard to predict when that may be. Often it comes late fall or early winter. So the sooner you are vaccinated, the sooner you are protected. Your protection will last through out the year. So as soon as you have the availability for the vaccine, would be a good time to get it.

One last question. Actually, it’s a statement. Finish this sentence for me if you can: National Immunization Awareness Month is a success if…

Great question. It’s a success if we increase our awareness about the need for immunization in infants, in school-age children, in college-bound students, in adults and the elderly. In fact, it’s a success if we increase the awareness about what vaccines can do to enhance the health of our populations, no matter who you are.

Thank you so much, Dr. Gellin, and best of luck with the rest of National Immunization Awareness Month. And thanks so much for speaking with APHA.

I really commend APHA for doing this; this is an important part of the public health, important part of personal health, and to make sure that people are aware of what vaccines can do to protect themselves from serious diseases. Thanks for doing this.

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