August is National Immunization Awareness Month. What Do You Need to Know?

Published August 20th, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

Did you know that August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM)? It’s a time to talk and learn about the importance of vaccination at all ages

You may hear about it from a lot of different sources – local and national news, your doctor’s office, your pharmacy, national organizations (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics, National Public Health Information Coalition), and more. 

Whether you’re new to learning about vaccines or it’s an old hat, here are some newer and exciting things from the world of vaccines!  

I’ve been asked if I am “up-to-date” on my vaccines… how do I know?  

You may have been asked this in a doctor’s appointment. Most people likely say “yes,” but perhaps don’t know for sure. 

FIRST, being “up-to-date,” means having received all recommended age- and disease-appropriate vaccines according to the CDC schedule. 

The CDC, via an expert group, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), publishes vaccines schedules that change slightly over time due to new evidence and vaccine availability:

  1. Infants and Children (birth – 6 years)
  2. Pre-teens and Teens (7 years – 18 years)
  3. Adults (19 years and older)

Each schedule has information about which vaccines are recommended for all people in a specific age group (including when and how many doses), as well as recommendations for special populations (e.g., those with a weakened immune system, those that are pregnant). There are several important reasons to follow the recommended schedule.

NEXT, how can you find out which vaccines you’ve had? You need to gather your vaccine history. You can often do this through an online patient chart (e.g., app or website that interacts with your electronic health record), request records from your doctor, or gain access to your vaccine history through your state’s immunization record system (most states have them). 

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THEN, compare your history with what is recommended. Keep in mind that your vaccine history may show combination vaccines, meaning there are several vaccines covered in one shot. The CDC schedules list each vaccine component needed, not every available combination. Even with the patient- and parent-friendly charts, the large tables can be intimidating at times. 

There are some NEWER, interactive tools from the CDC to take a look at:

Some of you may LOVE this detective work, putting puzzle pieces together. Go for it! Others may be thinking, “where is the easy button?!” For those on the latter side of things, don’t be afraid to go straight to your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse and ask this question! They should be able to tell you or walk you through the process. 

I think I’m missing something. How do I get up-to-date on my vaccines?

Talk with your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse! They can confirm what you found or clear up any confusion. If you are missing something, they can help come up with a plan to get you up-to-date. 

Most insurances cover routine preventative vaccines at little to no cost, and if something is cost-prohibitive, reach out to your local public health department – many offer vaccine services at little to no charge as well. 

Moving forward, always feel empowered to ask if you are due for something or if you have questions. Most healthcare professionals are on top of these things, but it can’t hurt to ask!

Where can I go to find reputable, current information about vaccines?

There is a lot of misinformation out there floating around, especially when it comes to vaccines, so make sure you get information from reputable sources

Some good examples include the CDC, ACIP, World Health Organization, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Public Health Association. 

In general, government and national well-known organization websites are usually trust-worthy. If you have questions about something you’ve heard or read, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted healthcare professional!

The flu season is coming up. What do I need to know for this year?

You need a new flu shot every year because the virus changes. Here are the big changes you should know about for the 2020-2021 flu season:

  • There are slightly different, but still, four strains covered this year (when you hear about vaccines, you may hear the word “quadrivalent,” which refers to the four strains).
  • There are new quadrivalent high-dose vaccines for adults 65 years of age and older. Previously, the high-dose vaccine was trivalent (3 strains), so this is exciting news!
  • The nasal spray option is ok to use this year (previous years it may or may not have been recommended based on data).
  • Getting vaccinated earlier is not necessarily better, even with COVID-19. July/August is likely too early; September/October is ideal.
  • How and where you get the flu shot may be different this year due to COVID-19. Plan ahead and follow directions from your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse.
  • Keep in mind, the annual influenza virus and SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) are two different viruses. You can get sick from both viruses at the same time, and the flu shot will not protect you from COVID-19. Please read more on the CDC website if you want to know more about flu and COVID-19.

I keep hearing about a potential COVID-19 vaccine. When will that be available?  

Keep your ear to the ground. Major news sources cover it often, so you will be sure to hear about it! If you want to learn about vaccine development and look at a neat new tool, check out the New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker

How can I promote NIAM?

Talk to friends and family, and promote NIAM on social media. Also, remember the key messages from the CDC:

  • You can protect against vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious diseases.
  • Work with your healthcare team to stay up-to-date on recommended vaccines.
  • Vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat. Vaccination is the best protection for most patients.

Reference List

  1. 1. National Immunization Awareness Month. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated July 13, 2020. Accessed August 7, 2020.
  2. 2. National ?Immunization Awareness Month?. American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated July 2020. Accessed August 7, 2020.
  3. 3. National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). National Public Health Information Coalition. Accessed August 7, 2020.
  4. 4. Vaccine Schedule. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated August 5, 2019. Accessed August 7, 2020.
  5. 5. Immunization Schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 3, 2020. Accessed August 7, 2020.
  6. 6. Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2020-2021 Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated August 7, 2020. Accessed August 7, 2020.
  7. 7. Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker. The New York Times. Updated August 6, 2020. Accessed August 7, 2020.
Published August 20th, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

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