July 25, 2022

Q&A with Neil Kaneshiro: Celebrating National Immunization Awareness Month

In celebration of National Immunization Awareness Month, we spoke with pediatrician and Immunization Action Coalition of Washington (IACW) chairperson, Dr. Neil Kaneshiro, about why vaccines are important for people of all ages, and what we can do right now to protect our family’s health.

Q&A with Neil Kaneshiro, MD

Can you explain what National Immunization Awareness Month is and why it is important?

National Immunization Awareness Month is an annual observance highlighting efforts to protect everyone from vaccine preventable diseases. It is important because vaccines save lives, and everyone should be aware of what vaccines they (or their children) should be receiving.

Studies show that there are many kids who are behind on their vaccinations – what do families need to be doing right now?

The global SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted health supervision visits for children and subsequently large numbers of children are now under-immunized. If you are unsure about your children’s vaccination status, you should check with your child’s medical provider and bring them in for all vaccines that are due.

What are these important vaccines and what do they prevent?

These are all the standard childhood vaccines that prevent diseases ranging from whooping cough to measles. We have the opportunity to prevent many terrible diseases with our current vaccines and need to take advantage of those capabilities.

What can happen if kids do not get those vaccines right now?

Due to under-immunization in the general population, we are at increasing risk for a disease outbreak that will harm large numbers of people including our children, such as measles, which had an outbreak in Washington as recently as 2019.

In your experience, what are the most common misunderstandings about routine vaccinations?

I hear a lot of worries about the safety of vaccines. The standard childhood vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective over many years. There is a lot of disinformation about vaccines on the internet and on social media that sounds credible but is simply untrue. If you have questions or need information, your pediatrician or family practice provider can provide you with references for good, evidence-based vaccine information.

Tell us about the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington.

The Immunization Action Coalition of Washington (IACW) includes a group of advocates who work to improve the health of our communities by improving the use of immunizations across the lifespan. The members of our coalition work in a variety of venues including medicine, public health, schools, insurers and more to promote the appropriate use of vaccines. Anyone who is passionate about vaccination or would like to learn more about vaccines is welcome to join this space. Learn more about IACW.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed both your work and the work of the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington?

As a pediatrician, we have had to make a lot of adjustments to provide safe and appropriate care for our patients. Many families also deferred care during the early part of the pandemic, leading to our current problem with low immunization rates. We are all working diligently to get patients back up to date on their vaccinations to avoid any possible outbreaks of disease.

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought newfound awareness to the community about how important vaccines are, it also created mass amounts of misinformation about them, even among groups that are at higher risk of severe disease. IACW wants to maintain vaccine education in the community, so we set one of our priorities as: “Reinforce vaccines as a social norm and focus engagement on populations at higher risk of illness from vaccine preventable diseases.”

What can be done to reach people who are unsure about vaccines?

That is a very good question. I have been in practice for a long time trying to figure that out. The world is a different and scarier place than the one I grew up in as a child. There is a lot of fear of things we don’t understand. I think the most important thing is that we, as immunization advocates, must not give up on those who currently question vaccines. I have had success in gentle, persistent persuasion over time.

What is the one thing you want people to take away from National Immunization Awareness Month?

I believe this is a great opportunity for providers to renew their efforts to get those behind on their immunizations caught up. I think that the public should see this as their opportunity to ask any questions they might have and reconsider vaccinations they may have deferred in the past. Vaccines are safe and effective at preventing many terrible diseases.

This month, celebrate National Immunization Awareness Month by taking some time to make sure your family is up-to-date on their vaccines, asking your provider any questions you might have about them, and learning some simple ways to become a vaccine advocate.

Providers can view our vaccine conversation guides, back-to-school toolkit, and e-courses to learn how to better promote vaccination among their patients and community.

Stay safe, healthy, and protect your community!

Dr. Neil Kaneshiro was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He received his BA degree in science from Northwestern University in 1988. He returned home and received his MD degree from University of Hawaii in 1992. He completed residency training at the University of Washington and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in 1995. Dr. Kaneshiro has been associated with Woodinville Pediatrics since 1995 and is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. He has one son. During his free time, he enjoys hiking, golf, swimming and water polo.