AHP: Why fall immunization efforts should be enhanced
By Atlantic Health Partners
Every year, respiratory illnesses such as influenza, RSV, and COVID-19 cause hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. Luckily, vaccination is proven to prevent and reduce the severity of many common respiratory virus symptoms. To improve our collective health during peak virus season, it’s critical that providers incorporate proactive immunization efforts during their fall patient interactions. 

Disease Burden of Respiratory Illness
During the 2022–2023 season, the concurrent surge of flu, RSV, and COVID-19, dubbed the “tripledemic,” resulted in 693,000 hospitalizations and an estimated 143,000 deaths nationwide. Spikes in hospitalization strained understaffed health care workers and led to capacity issues, potentially displacing other patients needing medical attention. Widespread vaccination is proven to reduce respiratory disease prevalence, thereby alleviating the burden on the health care system.

Strengthening Provider Immunization Efforts
To boost vaccination rates and improve herd immunity, it’s essential that providers increase immunization efforts during the early fall months, as vaccines are most effective before peak season, which occurs from November to February. To help providers effectively protect their patients and community against seasonal respiratory illness, we offer an overview of actionable and proactive immunization tactics: 

Plan ahead: Adequately preparing your practice’s vaccine inventory is key to a successful fall immunization season. Therefore, using the summer months to begin vaccination conversations and to place orders for the upcoming season can help you vaccinate your patients more effectively.

Promote open communication: Before addressing vaccination with patients, establish your office as a safe space and ask your patients if they’re open to the conversation. Engaging in a two-way discussion and encouraging your patients to ask questions is one of the most productive ways health care providers can instill vaccine confidence. Providers are in an influential position to equip their patients with accurate and actionable information to inform patients’ vaccination decisions. To maximize patient understanding when talking about vaccines, it’s critical to use simple terms in explaining how vaccines work, why they are safe, and what the benefits are. 

Make clear recommendations: Patients look to clinicians for recommendations for health care-related decisions. Your educated opinions can help patients keep themselves and their families safe from respiratory diseases this season, so providing a strong and clear clinical recommendation regarding eligible vaccines can significantly impact your patients’ decision-making.

Avoid missed vaccination opportunities: Promoting same-day vaccination can improve vaccination coverage and help your patients avoid making additional visits to the doctor. 

However, if they opt out of same-day vaccine administration, encouraging them to schedule their next vaccination appointment while still in the office can enhance their chance of following through. Additionally, if applicable, patient portals provide a great line of communication to send friendly reminders about receiving routine seasonal vaccines.

Educate your staff: It’s important to strengthen efforts across your practice, from your office to the front door. By communicating to your staff their role in boosting immunization and providing information on the importance of receiving seasonal respiratory vaccines, you’re shaping them into ambassadors who can help build and reinforce patient trust.