The Importance of Health Education for Immunization From the Perspective of an AmeriCorps VISTA and Certified Health Education Specialist

September 22, 2022

IC Blog & Event Entry Featured Images (2)

By Erika Dunnon

It is well known that having an educated and well-trained workforce is essential. This is especially true in healthcare where it creates the best environment for safe and effective practices. Equally important is the information available for the public to make health-related decisions, particularly about immunizations. These two factors work together to create optimal circumstances for vaccine uptake. So how do these two factors work together to improve vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake? 

Ongoing training is important in the healthcare field. Relationships are also foundational.

As our knowledge evolves, the demand for training and retraining becomes critical. Training and retraining are top priorities for many healthcare organizations. In the area of immunizations, training is imperative. It is important for workforce members who interact with the patient population to be educated about vaccinations so they can share accurate information with patients. 

It is also important for workforce members to be skilled at Motivational Interviewing, which decreases the likelihood of vaccine hesitancy. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a way of communicating about health decisions. It first requires providers to listen to the patient, and  then empower them to make a specific healthcare decision or behavior change. MI requires understanding, patience, and acceptance. This establishes a relationship – a basis for connection – and allows trust to form between the practitioner and their patient. With this trust established, the practitioner can educate the patient who can then autonomously make a healthcare decision or behavior change. Effective MI techniques also require ongoing training.

The right workforce training can improve vaccination rates.

As an AmeriCorps Vista and a Certified Health Education Specialist, I have had the professional opportunity to contribute to a continuing education project for Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) Emergency Preparedness and Response Volunteers. The goal of this project was to  equip our workforce for various response activities including vaccinating the public. Through the process of preparing an onboarding module, I learned the key role that training plays in building the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the JCPH volunteers.

Equally important is the ease with which workforce members can complete the continuing education training. For example, the training for JCPH is virtual and self-paced; the modules can be completed in any order. This makes it easy for volunteers to complete. The same training can be easily implemented for the workforce of neighboring organizations, saving time and associated costs. Accessible and convenient training opportunities create a more confident and capable workforce. And the workforce’s high rate of participation in continuing education has been associated with higher vaccination rates in their communities. 

Education results in increased vaccine uptake.

Providing vaccine education during vaccination opportunities has also been shown to increase vaccine uptake. For instance, a study looked at a group of young mother-infant pairs in Pakistan who received cards with vaccine-related content, and compared it to another control group who did not. Researchers found that vaccination rates in the group that received cards were significantly higher than in the control group. Another study demonstrated increased vaccine uptake with increased vaccine education.

Furthermore, public policies can affect the availability of and need for vaccine-related education for individuals making vaccination decisions. As policy efforts across the country seek to give adolescents the opportunity to receive some vaccines without parental consent, it is important to add this audience to the list of people that need education about vaccines. In fact, some policies require that vaccine education be offered alongside vaccine opportunities. 

Immunization education should be required for the workforce and vaccine recipients.

Immunization education is two-fold: education of the workforce and education of the target population or potential vaccine recipients. It is equally important that each group receive education about vaccinations. The workforce needs to be trained to provide educational interventions to the population, which involves first being educated itself through continuing education opportunities. With proper training, the workforce can then help educate the public about vaccines and help to increase vaccine uptake in their community. I’ve seen this happen firsthand at Jefferson County Public Health and know that education can truly make a difference in helping people get vaccinated.

Erika Dunnon is an Immunization and Outreach & Education Coordinator, on assignment with Jefferson County Public Health through the CO-mmunity Corps AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Immunize Colorado was formed in 1991 in response to alarmingly low vaccination rates across the state. At the time, only about 50% of Colorado’s children were adequately vaccinated. A group of physicians and other concerned individuals came together to strategize how to best protect Coloradans from vaccine-preventable diseases. Much work remains. You can donate or discover other ways to get involved to support our commitment to healthy Colorado communities today!

Immunize Colorado