Viv Bennett: Vaccines save lives, so let’s get the message out

The World Immunisation Week campaign urges nurses to help patients understand the value of vaccination

The World Immunisation Week campaign urges nurses to help patients understand the value of vaccination 

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Today marks the start of World Immunisation Week, a global campaign celebrating the successes of vaccines and highlighting the ongoing efforts needed to ensure everyone is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

This year's theme – #VaccinesWork – is about providing optimum protection from potentially fatal diseases for our communities. We are urging nurses, health visitors and midwives to champion the importance of taking up the offer of vaccination.

From the historic vaccine that eliminated smallpox many years ago to the life-saving modern day ones for flu and HPV, vaccines remain our best and most cost-effective line of defence for many diseases. They save millions of lives every year. 

Vaccine uptake is generally high in the UK, but there have been small dips in some childhood vaccination programmes despite the proven benefits. 

As frontline healthcare advisors, we are ideally placed to promote vaccinations to patients and allay any concerns they might have. We also benefit from the protection vaccines provide, including the annual flu vaccine and the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

Protection throughout life

Childhood vaccination programmes mean many deadly diseases, including diphtheria, polio and tetanus, are now rare in the UK. But it is still important to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated to limit and even eliminate these diseases. If people miss the alloted time for a vaccination, they should still be encouraged to catch up. 

Nurses, health visitors and midwives are well placed to communicate the message to new parents that, as well as giving children the best start in life, vaccines have important protective functions throughout life. 

The shingles vaccine is a good example of a highly effective immunisation programme offered to adults aged 70-78. Unfortunately, uptake levels are currently only at about 45%.  

A recent analysis in the Lancet Journal of Public Health showed the shingles vaccine was 62% effective against shingles, and 70-88% effective against post-herpetic neuralgia, one of the most common complications. 

Considering shingles affects about 50,000 older people every year, can cause severe pain with debilitating effects for months and causes about 50 deaths a year, increasing uptake could result in major improvements in quality of life for older people.  

Challenge misconceptions

What can we do to boost uptake? Nurses, midwives and health visitors can guide patients and new parents through the vaccination process by pointing out when people become eligible. Highlighting the benefits of vaccines will also enable patients to make well-informed decisions. 

Misconceptions and myths about vaccines often stop people from getting protected – for example, the myth that having multiple vaccinations at once overloads a child’s immune system.

We all have a vital role to play in helping bust these myths, and communicating how vaccinations are saving lives and protecting communities from devastating diseases.  

Public Health England recently launched e-learning resources on immunisation to equip nurses with everything they need to know about vaccinations.   

World Immunisation Week 2018 runs from 24-30 April. To find out more click here



Viv Bennett is chief nurse, Public Health England 

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