#VaccinesWork. Telemedicine should help.
Immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Yet, there are still nearly 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children in the world today. This is due to a range of factors including lack of knowledge about the benefits of vaccination, and inadequate vaccine supply. World Immunization, a global health campaign from WHO, aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. The theme this year was “Protected Together: Vaccines Work!”
Telemedicine can be used in a number of ways to improve immunization and vaccination coverage around the globe. Teleconsultations, either via video, call, or text-based chat, between remoted patients and healthcare professionals can allow dedicated time to help a patient understand the benefits of vaccination programs as well as for the doctor to talk through any doubts a patient may have before vaccination. This could be a way to address vaccine hesitancy as well as improve the number of patients which could be seen by health practitioners to get vaccinated. Second opinion from specialized doctor may also be of interest in case of patients with comorbidities impacting vaccination schedule.
Additionally, various digital health interventions have aimed to improve vaccination uptake by increasing awareness of vaccine availability and providing timely reminders of when they are due1. For example, the use of SMS such as the ‘Text4baby’ service, which provides influenza vaccination education and reminders to pregnant women, has been associated with increased vaccination of women who received them2. The use of SMS reminders sent to parents when their baby is 6, 10, and 14 weeks, in addition to routine health education, was found to increase uptake and reduce delays in receiving vaccinations in Zimbabwe and Kenya3-5.
Furthermore, a 41% increase in vaccination rates was observed in rural India after the introduction of an integrated mobile channel providing health information and connecting mothers to necessary health services regarding vaccination1. In Vietnam, it has been found that the digital immunization registry, which includes SMS reminders, can improve immunization coverage and timeliness of vaccination, thereby strengthening the quality and effectiveness of immunization programs. Full immunization coverage of children under one year old increased significantly from 75.4% to 99.2% in just 3 years from 2013 to 20156. In high income countries, mobile application for vaccination calendar such as Biloba in France or Can Immunize App in Canada are relevant tools to improve vaccination uptake.
Importantly, routine immunization provides a point of contact for healthcare at the beginning of life and offers a child the best chance at a healthy life. Into the future, telemedicine will play a myriad of roles in delivering the message #VaccinesWork!
1. Oliver-Williams, C. et al., 2017. Using Mobile Phones to Improve Vaccination Uptake in 21 Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Systematic Review. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth, 5(10):e148.
2. Bushar, J. et al., 2017. Text4baby Influenza Messaging and Influenza Vaccination Among Pregnant Women. Am J Prev Med, 53(6):845–853.
3. Bangure, D. et al., 2015. Effectiveness of SMS reminders on childhood immunization programme in Kadoma, Zimbabwe – a randomized controlled trial, 2013. BMC Public Health, 15:137.
4. Brown, V. et al., 2016. Effects of community health nurse-led intervention on childhood routine immunization completion in primary health care centers in Ibadan, Nigeria. J Community Health. 41(2):265–73
5. Wakadha, H. et al., 2013. The feasibility of using mobile-phone based SMS reminders and conditional cash transfers to improve timely immunization in rural Kenya. Vaccine. 2013 Jan 30;31(6):987–93. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2012.11.093.
6. Nguyen, N. et al., 2017. Digital immunization registry: evidence for the impact of mHealth on enhancing the immunization system and improving immunization coverage for children under one year old in Vietnam. Mhealth 3:26.