Open dialogue with parents in Azerbaijan allows increase in number of vaccinated children
Published by WHO
15 August 2023
“Due to the frequent illnesses my children experience, I had doubts about vaccinating them. But today, the doctor put my mind at ease, assuring me that this should not prevent them from getting vaccinated,” says Afsana Aliyeva, a parent who attended one of the outreach activities in Azerbaijan during European Immunization Week. Until April this year, her 2-year-old daughter had never received a vaccine.
As part of a project to strengthen vaccination systems in Azerbaijan funded by the European Union, WHO partnered with UNICEF and government agencies to organize parent conferences in four regions with low vaccination coverage rates. WHO, together with national and regional colleagues from the Ministry of Health, met with local health-care providers and vaccinators to provide them with educational material for parents and supported efforts to invite 500 families with children who missed their routine immunizations.
In a single day, about 70% of children who were unimmunized or under-immunized received their vaccines. Nearly 80% of attending parents had initially delayed or declined vaccination of these children. This effort is commendable as it paves the way to address immunity gaps in local communities, which, if left unattended, may lead to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio.
Effective, open communication between parents and health providers
Key to the success of the campaign was fruitful and effective communication between parents and trusted health-care professionals. Caregivers were able to share their concerns freely and ask questions of a panel of experts, who provided clear information to correct misunderstandings and remove uncertainties.
The interactive events aimed to build trust and demand for vaccines among parents by providing accurate information about vaccines and dispelling myths and misconceptions about their safety and efficacy.
Through formative research, WHO had collected essential data to develop tailored interventions, including these parent conferences, to support the country’s vaccination efforts as part of the “Big Catch-up”, a targeted global effort to boost vaccination among children. The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted immunization in countries worldwide, including Azerbaijan, with children missing out entirely or partially on routine immunizations.
Health workers received training on best practices to promote routine immunization
Also during European Immunization Week, WHO supported capacity building of health-care workers in these same four regions to improve their communication skills when addressing parents’ concerns about vaccines. Ministry of Health experts on child and adolescent health shared up-to-date information about vaccines and debunked misconceptions around vaccination, equipping health-care workers with the knowledge, skills and confidence needed when recommending vaccines.
“During the training, I received the latest updates on child vaccination,” said Aytaj Aliyeva, a health worker who attended the training. “Additionally, the professor provided us with valuable insights on effectively addressing parents’ inquiries with compelling answers.”
Community leaders, including kindergarten teachers, community nurses, and local authority representatives, were also involved in awareness-raising activities and approached parents with various educational materials. By involving diverse stakeholders, the initiative created a supportive and inclusive environment that encouraged vaccine acceptance within communities.
Partnering with the EU to boost vaccine acceptance
These community engagement activities were supported financially by the European Union, which is continuing its partnership with WHO Europe in providing critical assistance to ensure effective COVID-19 vaccination rollout and strengthen immunization systems in the 6 Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.