Health is Primary

Campaign Focuses on Promoting Value of Immunizations

August 12, 2016 12:11 pm Chris Crawford

The Health is Primary( campaign from Family Medicine for America's Health( has focused its efforts for August on promoting childhood and adult immunizations.

[Young girl receiving shot in arm by healthcare worker]

As part of this campaign, Health is Primary has created a patient handout( explaining the basics of vaccines, including the safety of immunizations, why they are important, who should get them and possible side effects.

In addition, the campaign's immunization resources include easy-to-read recommended immunization charts for infants, children and teens( -- as well as for adults.( There are also Spanish-language versions of both the kids' immunization chart( and the chart for adults(

Get Creative Promoting Vaccines

Current AAFP Vaccine Science Fellow John Merrill-Steskal, M.D., of Ellensburg, Wash., told AAFP News that when it comes to disseminating information about the benefits of immunizations, he sees modern communication channels as valuable tools.

First off, Merrill-Steskal explained, social media platforms are great for reaching patients about vaccines.

Story highlights
  • The Health is Primary campaign from Family Medicine for America's Health has focused its efforts for August on promoting childhood and adult immunizations.
  • The campaign created immunization resources that include easy-to-read immunization recommendation charts for infants, children and teens -- as well as for adults -- in both English and Spanish.
  • Current AAFP Vaccine Science Fellow John Merrill-Steskal, M.D., told AAFP News that when it comes to disseminating information about the benefits of immunizations, he sees modern communication channels as valuable tools.

"I believe that social media is an underutilized tool to reach patients about immunizations and will be increasingly important as social media continues to grow," he said. "There are a variety of ways that physicians can be a positive voice for vaccines within social media, especially if the audience is familiar with the doctor. Short, positive comments on sites that patients may frequent can be helpful, for example."

However, Merrill-Steskal added, family physicians likely can have the greatest impact on patients by articulating these concepts more thoughtfully.

"I believe a powerful tool is the blog," he said. "I think a blog most accurately fits the medical profession because concepts (such as vaccines) are discussed in short, hopefully well-thought-out essays."

Merrill-Steskal said the audience for a physician's blog likely will include many of his or her patients, along with other members of that physician's community.

"I love to write about vaccines," he said. "Vaccines have saved more lives than anything else in medicine. My first two essays were on vaccines, and I have a couple more I am in the process of polishing that will soon be posted."

Blogging has proven to be a particularly useful tool for reaching patients with important health messages, said Merrill-Steskal. When, for example, patients have read his blog Triple Espresso M.D.,( it has facilitated good discussions on health topics such as immunizations. "My blog has helped open doors for dialog, which is extremely valuable," he said.

In addition, Merrill-Steskal hosts a monthly radio program called Dr. John's Radio Show,( which he also uses as a platform to promote vaccination.

"As a family physician, I like to learn about and share information on a variety of medical topics, but the subject of vaccines is my favorite," he said.

Merrill-Steskal's radio show is recorded and archived as a series of podcast files on the website of his local radio outlet, Ellensburg Community Radio. His programs have included vaccine topics such as the immune system and vaccines; measles, rabies, HIV and vaccine ethical issues; and Zika virus, rubella and the HPV vaccine.

Make Vaccine Education Fun

On top of the variety of platforms that Merrill-Steskal uses to promote immunizations -- including his stint as an AAFP Vaccine Science Fellow -- he carves out time to serve as a preceptor and mentor to medical students at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle -- mostly those who are in their first and third years in the program. Teaching these medical students about the importance of vaccines enables them to relay this information to their future patients and further increase immunization rates.

"We talk about vaccines in the clinic, and I have involved (the medical students) in my radio show, as well," he said.

When Merrill-Steskal recently had a medical student on his radio program to discuss measles, rabies and ethical issues, he asked the participant to prepare for the show by learning about the diseases and related vaccines.

"Students learn, and I have an enthusiastic and willing guest to discuss vaccines -- it's a lot of fun and a win-win experience," he said. "Currently, we are waiting for our next student to do a rotation with us, and over time I plan to do more radio shows with students as my guests where vaccines are discussed."

Utilize AAFP Immunization Resources

The Academy offers an assortment of immunization resources to support family physicians in their efforts to increase patient vaccination rates.

These resources include up-to-date influenza vaccine information, disease- and population-specific resources and reports from research endeavors such as the AAFP's Office Champions project on child and adolescent immunization.

"Fortunately, between the AAFP and the CDC, there are excellent (immunization) resources for family physicians to utilize," Merrill-Steskal said.

Finally, Merrill-Steskal said he cannot emphasize enough that family physicians need to present positive, strong and clear messages about vaccines not only in their exam rooms but also outside of them.

"For me, this has involved my radio show and writing my blog. I feel meeting patients on social media is extremely important, as well," he said. "But every physician has unique interests and may choose a different way to promote vaccines (e.g., public talks, newspaper articles). It's important for family physicians to get out of their clinics and make their voices heard in their communities."

Related AAFP News Coverage
ACIP Recommends MenACWY-D for HIV-infected Patients, Cholera Vaccine

ACIP: Don't Use LAIV During 2016-17 Flu Season

Vaccine Science Fellow Glad She Gave it a Shot
Melissa Martinez, M.D., Recaps Her Past Year's Fellowship