A recent tally by the Associated Press found that vaccination levels are dropping in California – specifically among private school students, where 10 percent of children show up without having a full battery of recommended vaccinations, and the number of public school students showing up without the recommended protection have remained flat since 2004.
Although vaccination conversations cover a variety of conditions, the campaign for battling pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is one of the conditions that has garnered attention. Just last month the CDC counted more than 23,000 cases nationwide – this is more than a threefold increase of the potentially deadly infection since the 1980s.
The rising numbers may be a bit of a surprise, considering that CDC spokesperson Allison Patti told MM&M the agency's pertussis info page has been among the agency's top-most visited pages over the past year. This is in addition to seeing traffic spike by 30,000 visits after the health agency's July 19 telebriefing about the potentially deadly infection and a two-day radio push that focused on hot spots including Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin in which the agency held more than 40 interviews that focused on disease basics and encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated.
According to Allison, vaccination rates tend to include about 95% of infants, who can start their three-dose regimen when they are two months old. The starts start dropping significantly from there, with about 70% of teens being covered and around 8% of adults. Allison said the falloff in pertussis protection can't wholly be blamed on an anti-vaccination movement, as the vaccine's protection wears off after about five years and children, teens, pregnant women and adults need booster shots to keep it at bay.
Messaging about renewing pertussis coverage is somewhat new – she said word about giving booster shots to teens and adults started in 2006, and recommendations that pregnant women get the vaccine – they can pass on a degree of coverage to their infants – dates only to 2010.
Patti said the CDC also funnels information through a variety of channels, by working with state and local health departments and providing resources, such as a toolkit to help healthcare providers discuss vaccinations with parents, in addition to tapping into Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to make information more accessible to parents.
The agency's promotional efforts overlap with those of the vaccine makers. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, has a site called helppreventdiease.com. The site gives a rundown of adult vaccinations in general as well as highlights specific concerns, such as whooping cough and hepatitis B. A spokesman told MM&M the company goal is to support the CDC's effort with messaging that dovetails that of the agency.
Sanofi's pertussis marketing efforts take a bolder form: the Sounds of Pertussis campaign it launched in 2009 with the non-profit and advocacy organization March of Dimes. The campaign using TV, print and online outreach, and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon to promote the importance of having caregivers keep their vaccinations up to date. Last year's campaign raised money by having supporters design quilt squares for both a real and virtual quilt.
Sanofi's Director of Communications, Michael Szumera said the “heart of the campaign has always been the PSA,” but the social media component, which includes more than 65,000 Facebook likes shows that “people are fairly engaged,” with the social media out reach. This year's spin is taking pertussis out of the picture, which translates into Sanofi donating $1 to the March of Dimes for photos of families in which parents have pledged to fight the infection, up to $10,000.
Szumera said the consumer-focused campaigns have an impact that goes beyond the household. He said “Moms who are aware of the campaign and resources are more likely to initiate conversations” with their friends.
He told MM&M that he was also asked about his pertussis vaccination status – when we spoke with him in July he was one month into his tenure as Sanofi and six months into his role as uncle to a six-month-old niece. He said his sister wanted to know if he'd gotten the vaccine. His answer: yes.
Douglas Staples, SVP, strategic marketing and communications for the March of Dimes, said the campaign has upset some viewers. “The only criticism we've gotten from time to time are people who didn't like the ad. The coughing sound upset them, or they didn't like thinking they could be a carrier,” he said, referring to an online component that includes the coughing sound associated with the disease.
Staples embraced the reaction. “To me that means the message is getting through, and that's a good thing,” he added.