June is Men’s Health Month, a national observance to raise awareness about healthcare for men and focus on encouraging boys, men, and their families to take charge of their health by implementing healthy living decisions. In recognition of Men’s Health Month, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and Men’s Health Network—a proud supporter of the NFID Keep Up The Rates campaign—encourage all men and boys to stay up to date on recommended vaccines. Special thanks to Salvatore J. Giorgianni, PharmD, for this guest blog post about the importance of preventive care for men. Dr. Giorgianni is a registered pharmacist and an expert in men’s health and US drug regulatory and pharmaceutical policy.
Why is it important for men to stay up to date on recommended vaccinations?
Men do preventive maintenance on their cars, tools, and BBQ grills but when it comes to their own health, they have an unfortunate history of waiting longer than they should to seek care. Vaccines are one of the best ways to help prevent illnesses, which is especially important for diseases like COVID-19 that can cause more severe complications among men (especially older men or those with certain chronic medical conditions).
Recent reports show that COVID-19 vaccination rates are currently lower among men than women. What are some of the reasons for this disparity?
Men too often have a false perception that they can take care of themselves in other ways and don’t need to get vaccinated. However, COVID-19 has shown us that regardless of how tough you think you are, the virus can have a severe impact on you. Few people are tougher than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but he was severely impacted by COVID-19, along with his immediate family, and has shared his experience to encourage everyone to protect themselves and their families.
The public health community needs to do more to raise awareness about the impact of COVID-19 among men, and the long-term medical effects of the disease. Studies have shown that some people who have had COVID-19 report long-term symptoms, ranging from depression to heart palpitations. We need more trusted messengers, like The Rock, who can reach key populations about the importance of COVID-19 vaccines and other recommended vaccines. We all need to play a part to reach groups/individuals that are least likely to get vaccinated—and we need to reach these populations where they already are, listen to their specific concerns, and share tailored pro-vaccine messages.
As a pharmacist, what are some of the best practices that you can share for healthcare professionals to increase vaccination rates among their male patients?
Healthcare professionals should check in frequently with patients about their vaccination status. During influenza (flu) season, pharmacies are actively advertising in the community and promoting preventive care. There is no reason why that cannot be done year-round in every healthcare setting—from urgent care clinics to sports physicals to routine pharmacy visits. We need to use every opportunity to be upfront about preventive care and discuss/review recommended vaccines.
Pharmacists are very accessible, and in many communities, it may be easier to talk to a pharmacist than other healthcare professionals. Pharmacists you see in supermarkets or at your corner drugstore are all well-trained and informed about vaccines. They can answer questions and provide vaccinations quickly and conveniently. It’s even easier than getting the oil changed in your car!
Another big opportunity is workplace health. Vaccines are just as important for workplace health as anything else and I would encourage more employers to take proactive approaches to encourage vaccination and even offer vaccines at their worksites. We see this frequently with flu vaccines and it would be great to see more employers offering this service for other vaccines as well.
What can COVID-19 vaccination efforts teach us about how to raise vaccination rates among men for other infectious diseases?
I hope some of the practices utilized for distributing COVID-19 vaccines are extended to other vaccines, too. For example, there are phenomenal examples of vaccine clinics being offered at baseball stadiums and concerts. NASCAR tracks are offering the vaccines and in Talladega, they even let people drive laps around the Superspeedway once they are vaccinated.
Why did Men’s Health Network join the Keep Up The Rates campaign and why is it important to promote vaccination among men?
The mission of Men’s Health Network is to reach men, boys, and their families where they live, work, play, and pray with health awareness and disease prevention messages and tools, screening programs, educational materials, and advocacy opportunities. The Keep Up The Rates campaign aligns perfectly with that mission and provides us with resources to share with our partners and followers. Men need to take responsibility for their health, and we strongly believe that being healthy should be a large part of modern masculinity.
How can other supporting organizations of the Keep Up The Rates campaign help raise awareness about the importance of recommended vaccines for men?
It is wonderful to see the increase in awareness around breast cancer when airlines, sports leagues, and major corporations collaborate to promote screenings and research, as well as encouraging people to wear pink during the month of October. We would love to see these groups take that same approach to promote men’s health in June. The Friday before Father’s Day (June 18 this year) is Wear Blue Day, when we encourage everyone to wear blue to raise awareness for men’s health, including the importance of vaccines. We are also working to incorporate men’s health into school curriculums and get more media attention on health issues that disproportionately impact men.
As we enter the summer months, what tips do you have for family members who want to approach a dad, brother, uncle, or friend about vaccines?
Research has shown that men prefer a direct approach when talking about healthcare. The easiest conversation starter for vaccines is, “I just got my [fill in the blank] vaccine—have you?” Too often important conversations are avoided until it is too late. Vaccines are an easy way to make talking about health a routine conversation.
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