Childhood Immunization Rates Improved by Community Outreach

Children whose parents receive educational outreach from community health groups might show improvements in getting necessary childhood immunizations, a new study finds.

With childhood immunization rates in New York City’s low-income Latino community well below city and national averages, researchers developed a program to increase the number of Latino children who were up to date on the 4:3:1:3:3 series, which protects against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, polio, measles-mumps-rubella and hepatitis B.

“Our intervention with its community-based outreach, education and reminders created the synergies that we envisioned, leading to higher immunization rates,” said the study’s lead author Sally Findley, PhD, of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

The study appears in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers helped organize Start Right, a 23-partner coalition that trained nearly 1,000 community staffers to provide outreach to parents to encourage immunizations. Start Right developed bilingual, low-literacy materials and did one-on-one or group education outreach with the 10,251 participating parents. Outreach included an average of 2.7 calls, reminder cards or visits per child before each immunization was due.

To assess the effect of the coalition’s program, the researchers used a group of children who were born at the main community hospital between April 1999 and September 2003. The children were divided into two groups — those who had enrolled into the program and those who had not.

According to the study, less than three years later, the children enrolled in Start Right had 11 percent higher immunization coverage than children in the control group. Findley and her colleagues also found that children in Start Right were 53 percent more likely to be up to date on their immunization series than those children not in the program were.

“Our community program gave families the ‘edge’ they needed,” said Findley.

Lloyd Kolbe, PhD, associate dean for Global and Community Health at Indiana University, said the Start Right model should be repeated as needed to “meet the unique circumstances of other big cities and low-income communities,” and that the program’s coalition method has implications far beyond the goal of immunizing children.

Reference: Findley SE, et al. Effectiveness of a community coalition for improving child vaccination rates in New York City. American Journal of Public Health 98(11), 2008.

Source: American Public Health Association