Saving lives by helping parents remember

By ThinkReliability Staff

Vaccination programs that increased the worldwide availability of vaccines have resulted in an estimated 7 million children surviving who would otherwise have died of preventable disease since the year 2000. Preventable diseases are those that can be prevented with a proper vaccination schedule.

However, about 1 in 5 children miss recommended vaccinations, leading to an estimated 1.5 million deaths that still happen every year from preventable diseases. Although the vaccines are getting to medical facilities across the world, children still need to be brought to the vaccines.   Parents may choose not to have their children vaccinated, typically due to a concern about the side effects (as occurred in the Disneyland measles outbreak, the subject of a previous blog.)   In some cases, parents just forget about the increasingly complex vaccination schedule.

People forget things; it’s a fact of life. But when parents forget about recommended vaccines, preventable disease and potentially death can be the result. Various solutions have been implemented across the world to make sure that all children receive all recommended vaccines. Potential solutions are evaluated on how easy they are to implement and how effective their planned result. Ideal solutions (“low-hanging fruit” or “slam dunks”) are solutions that are very effective and simple to implement.

The effectiveness and ease of implementation of solutions is dependent upon the circumstances. For example, calling parents to remind them of their child’s vaccine schedule is pretty effective – but it’s far easier to implement in a developed country than in a developing country. Thus the same solution – a phone call – appears in the “low hanging fruit” quadrant in developed countries, and in the “capital project” for developing countries. Click on “Download PDF” above to see how a solutions matrix may look for this issue.

Other solutions that have been implemented across the globe to help ensure children get all their recommended vaccines include:

– An anklet that fits around a newborn’s ankle with a punch-out reminder for each vaccine that costs only 10 cents each and has been tested in Peru & Ecuador (91% of 150 mothers surveyed said the bracelets helped them remember)

– Town criers in the villages of Burkina Faso made announcements about meningitis vaccines and community health workers went door-to-door answering questions about the vaccine (11 million people aged 1 to 29 were vaccinated within 10 days)

– PATH, a nonprofit that works on vaccines, provides poster templates advertising the importance of vaccines

– Rotary International had vaccine announcements added to the skirts of women in Kenya

– In India, an extensive polio vaccination program including transit and follow-up teams which led to the country being removed from the endemic polio list (see our previous blog)

All of these solutions have the potential to reduce deaths from preventable disease by increasing vaccination rates. In this case, as in many others, the most effective solutions need to be selected carefully. “Cultures, leaders and messaging are different in each country. So you have to study and use what’s most likely to work in order to build trust that the vaccine will be helpful,” says Amrita Gill-Bailey a team leader at Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.