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The Vital Role of School Nurses in Improving Immunization Rates

August 2013

To help bring awareness to the importance of immunizations, the month of August is recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This month and every month, school nurses are in a unique position to educate school communities on the importance of immunization, and can help encourage people across the nation to protect their health by being immunized against infectious diseases.

“School nurses are well positioned to create awareness of the need for immunization within their school communities. They can also serve as role models by making sure their own vaccinations are up-to-date,” said Donna J. Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). “Vaccinating the school community helps protect both children and the broader community by interrupting infectious disease transmission to others.”

Although school nurses are sometimes perceived as serving only students, they also have the opportunity to advocate for a well-immunized school community, including parents and school employees. School nurses are trusted sources of health information by colleagues and other adults, and schools are an ideal location for making vaccines accessible to an entire school community. By capitalizing on both of these factors, school nurses can help make their schools healthier and safer places for all.

“In collaboration with local public health groups, schools can be an effective location for the delivery of vaccines, particularly in areas where the population is under-immunized,” said Mazyck. “Offering immunizations in the school setting can offer several benefits. Lost work time for parents and lost school time for students is minimized, children and families can more easily be reached, and the school nurse is better positioned to link the school with community vaccine partners.”

As the primary health professional in the school setting, school nurses are often responsible for various vaccine-related functions, including verifying student vaccine status prior to enrollment in school; informing and educating parents and other caregivers, as well as students, about the required and recommended vaccines; administering vaccines or referring families to healthcare providers; and coordinating school responses when there is an outbreak of infectious disease.

Seasonal influenza is a particularly serious and potentially deadly disease that spreads easily, and according to Mazyck, the flu vaccine is the best way to avoid contracting and spreading the virus. To help prevent potential flu outbreaks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who is at least six-months-old receive a seasonal flu vaccine. Strategies suggested to meet this goal often include using the school setting as an important point of access for the vaccine.

The NASN offers several key resources to help school nurses promote seasonal flu vaccination. Fighting the Flu Happens at School! is one resource that provides school nurses with the tools to conduct an educational campaign in their school communities about the importance of receiving the flu vaccine. The campaign materials are organized by month, providing a suggested focus for each month, along with activities and resources to help school nurses inform students, parents and school personnel.

The NASN also offers a free online continuing education program for all school nurses, titled “Seasonal Influenza Prevention and Management in the School Setting: Principles and Practice,” which is updated annually. Additionally, nurses can visit the NASN’s dedicated seasonal influenza website, which provides key facts about seasonal flu vaccine, as well as additional tools and resources for school nurses to help create greater awareness about the need for flu vaccination.

“Given the enormous burden of seasonal influenza and the important role that school-age children play in the cycle of disease, it’s important for school nurses to be knowledgeable about the clinical course, options for preventing and treating the disease, and steps that can be taken to improve influenza immunization rates,” said Mazyck. “Overall, school nurses can truly play an important role in non-emergent and emergency prevention of vaccine-preventable disease.”

For more information about the requirements, education and resources needed to be a school nurse, visit www.discovernursing.com. And be sure to check out school nurse Sheila Caldwell’s “Day in the Life” video to follow her throughout her day interacting with students.

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