Interview: Valuing vaccines across generations

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

March 23rd, 2016

Editorial Team

‘Immunisation is can be valuable for people of all ages and people from across the generations have a role in discussing vaccination with their family and others.’

Immunisation can be valuable for people of all ages and people from across the generations have a role in discussing vaccination with their family and others.

In this exclusive interview, Donna Butts, Executive Director of the not-for-profit organisation Generations United, explains how her organization is working to inspire conversations about life-course vaccination among people of all ages.

· Tell us about your Valuing Vaccines Across the Generations campaign?

Generations United is creating an awareness campaign that aims to bridge efforts for increasing immunisations into intergenerational conversations within families and among different generations. Working in an exciting partnership with the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), we are developing an international effort that promotes vaccinations through a lifespan approach by providing tools to encourage intergenerational dialogues about health and protecting other generations. We hope our fresh, compelling and sharable content which includes a lifespan vaccine infographic, memes, video vignettes and an intergenerational discussion guide will be widely shared and broadly used.  


· What are the goals of this campaign?

The goal of our Valuing Vaccinations campaign is to elevate the critical importance of vaccinations across generations and the role they play in creating healthy communities for all ages. We want to encourage people to wear a #BandAGEofhonor and protect their family and others by ensuring their vaccinations are up to date. We plan to infuse a new perspective and support the really great efforts and coalitions that already exist and are doing important work.

· What makes this vaccination campaign unique?

Using an intergenerational lens, our unique contribution to the international effort to promote vaccinations is that of taking a lifespan approach. Many groups are working to increase rates among children, youth or older adults but not necessarily using a frame of the value for all ages. We will provide families, and professionals working with families, tools to tackle the sometimes tough discussions around vaccination and good health for all members of the family. At Generations United, we also take pride in grappling with complex issues and communicating them in clear, understandable and even fun ways. We are not experts in vaccinations but our partners, GSA and AAP, are which is why we’re thrilled to be working with them. We at Generations United are, however, experts in communicating across generations and engaging people of different ages in important conversations. 

We’re also highlighting effective cross-generational models in vaccination education. For example, an intergenerational program in Texas ran for 10 years. Older adults were trained and placed in health care settings to educate young parents, many of whom had never lived through the devastation of diseases that are now preventable through vaccinations, about the importance of vaccinations. The older adults also developed and administered a follow-up system with the young parents so they wouldn’t forget when it was time for another shot. In the end, they helped ensure 250,000 infants were vaccinated, administered 500,000 reminder calls.  Thus, proving that intergenerational approaches are win-win-win, changed the attitudes of health care staff who reported a much improved positive view of the important role older adults could play in programs such as this one.

· After launching in the US, which countries will you expand to next?

The campaign has been launched in the US and is off to a promising start. Now we’re working to identify partners in Japan and Europe to work with on customizing or developing new materials that will be sensitive and accessible to people in those countries. We plan to begin with two additional countries this year with the hope that we will be able to continue and expand the campaign in future years. We’re eager to partner and share resources so that the educational tools have an expansive and deep reach around the globe.

· Why focus on vaccines across the lifespan?

There’s so much great work underway around the world focused on single age groups. At Generations United, we believe we can only be successful at tackling complex issues if we use an intergenerational lens and embrace and leverage generational diversity. Children, youth and older adults don’t live, or at least live well, in isolation. By taking a lifespan approach we bring a unique perspective designed to support, not compete, with other campaigns and groups that are working to increase vaccination rates leading to healthier families and communities.

· Why is Generations United committed to this issue?

For 30 years, Generations United has been the leading voice in the US promoting intergenerational solutions and acting as the catalyst for policies and practices that stimulate cooperation and collaboration among generations and the organizations that represent them. We are committed to building healthy intergenerational communities where people of all ages are valued and can thrive. Vaccinations are an important part of good health throughout the life course and we are committed to helping people understand the responsibility they have not just to themselves but to their family, friends and community.

· Why is it essential to bring together a broad coalition of stakeholders to raise awareness of adult immunisation?

People are generally aware of the importance of childhood vaccinations but not as familiar with those needed later in life. Our infographic points out the three illnesses that can be passed between generations that are preventable with immunisation. We believe it’s important to raise awareness among a broad range of people to educate on the value of vaccinations. To do this, we need broad engagement with other diverse stakeholders to reach families and professional who serve them. We also aim to raise awareness that everyone needs to be vaccinated if everyone from birth through old age is to be protected.

· How can we generate conversations about immunisations within families and among generations? 

Our discussion guide will be available later this spring and can easily be accessed at It will include activities and discussion starters that can stand alone or tee off of the videos and memes the campaign is creating. There is also a social media tool kit designed to help spread awareness about the importance of vaccinations across generations. We’ll also be suggesting best times of the year to have conversations such as before school starts or holidays approach. We’re planning to appeal to various generations in a family through vaccine champions like Elvis Pressley, Mark Zuckerberg and Sarah Michelle Gellar also known as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. It’s easier to relate when people see their own generation reflected.