May 29, 2014

Vaccinations: A public health benefit


Group Health Research Institute hosts CDC and Vax Northwest

Most parents choose to protect their children from diseases such as measles, meningitis, polio, and whooping cough through vaccinations. But a rising number opt not to vaccinate their children fully according to the recommended schedule, and many parents have concerns about the safety or necessity of vaccines. 

Parental hesitancy around vaccination goes beyond economic hardship, lack of access to quality health care, and being unaware of the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases. The main concern of many vaccine-hesitant parents is risks from the vaccines themselves—even though science has repeatedly demonstrated that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. That’s why physicians and care providers need practical and creative strategies to help them overcome parental objections. They also need compelling evidence to help patients improve their own health and well-being—and those of their communities.

A shot in the arm

According to the Group Health Foundation’s Childhood Immunization Initiative, nearly a third of children in Washington state miss one or more recommended vaccinations. Many health care providers, parents, teachers, and children's health advocates now fear that declining immunization rates have put our children and our communities at risk—from diseases that, not long ago, had been practically stamped out.

Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) is tackling this challenge on many fronts and is proud to be a member of Vax Northwest, a public-private partnership created to ensure that all children and communities in Washington state are protected from preventable, life-threatening diseases. Vax Northwest aims to provide parents with the information they need when making decisions about vaccinating their children.

Leading the charge

On Wednesday, May 21, 2014, GHRI was honored to host Vax Northwest and special guest Melinda Wharton, MD, MPH, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Michele Roberts, MPH, MCHES, director of the Office of Immunization and Child Profile, Washington State Department of Health and David C. Grossman, MD, MPH, organized the visit. He’s a GHRI senior investigator, Group Health physician, and Group Health’s medical director for population & purchaser strategy.

GHRI Executive Director Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, introduced Dr. Wharton and the Vax Northwest members. Presenters from GHRI included Nora Henrikson, PhD, MPH; Michael L. Jackson, PhD, MPH; Clarissa Hsu, PhD; and Jennie Schoeppe, MPH, MS.

Dr. Henrikson presented preliminary results of a just-completed randomized controlled trial of an innovative communications intervention to help providers talk with vaccine-hesitant mothers. Dr. Hsu and Ms. Schoeppe discussed an ongoing evaluation of a peer-to-peer campaign to activate vaccine-confident parents. Dr. Jackson shared updates on GHRI’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU), which conducts clinical trials of promising vaccines and infectious disease therapies. Group Health Physician and GHRI Affiliate Investigator John Dunn, MD, MPH, described Group Health’s efforts to improve immunizations.

Representatives from the Group Health Foundation, GHRI, Seattle Children’s, the CDC, and Washington State Department of Health attended the meeting. Vax Northwest includes Group Health, Seattle Children's, Washington State Department of Health, WithinReach, and BestStart Washington.