Share Traditions, Not Conditions

"Vaccination can protect not just the individual, but their loved ones as well."
12/22/2016 03:31 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2017
Generations United

“Keeping current on my vaccines is protecting my grandchildren, and I would do anything for them.” Susan Dreyfus, CEO, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

As families and friends gather for the holidays they often reflect on what they are thankful for and their hopes for the coming year. They may toast to good health and long life.

Grandparents, babies and all the in-between generations share traditions and memories, but unintentionally, they might be sharing more. A recent report found that 83 percent of babies studied caught whooping cough from someone in their immediate or extended family — including grandparents.

Many people make vaccine choices as an individual, but these decisions should be made with family and the community in mind, because vaccination can protect not just the individual, but their loved ones as well.

And it’s not just grandparents choosing vaccines who can help protect babies.

Vaccines can prevent children from spreading illness to grandparents and other older friends too. In fact, researchers found that when children in the community were vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, the number of older adults with the disease declined significantly.

When it comes to good health, we need an all generations approach.

That’s why our three organizations, Generations United, The Gerontological Society of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics, decided to form a unique partnership and launch the Valuing Vaccinations Across Generations campaign.

To develop healthy communities that are good places to grow up and grow old, we need to work together.

We’re beginning with vaccinations.

There are three illnesses that are most likely to be passed between older and younger generations—flu, pneumonia and whooping cough. All are preventable with immunizations.

Important family discussions about vaccines can be tough, but grandparents are uniquely positioned to start these conversations since they often recognize and value their role as counselors on sensitive issues.

Take grandfather Tom Taylor, for example. Having witnessed first-hand the polio epidemic and outbreaks of measles and mumps, he had vaccine discussions with his children and grandchildren because they are fortunate that, due to today’s vaccinations, they haven’t had to live through the devastation that polio can unleash.

Mr. Taylor takes seriously his role as a “time witness” sharing wisdom and experience with younger generations of his family to help keep them safe and healthy.

To help families and friends get the conversation started this holiday season, we worked together to create Valuing Vaccinations Across Generations — An Intergenerational Discussion Guide.

The discussion guide bridges the importance of immunizations within separate age groups and provides a platform for focusing on the meaningful exchanges between different generations of a family about their values and convictions while learning more about the role vaccinations play in maintaining good health at every age.

Intergenerational conversations around vaccinations allow people with longer histories to share experiences that many younger people have not even heard of, much less experienced.

Each section of the discussion guide includes activities and sample questions for older people to ask young people and for young people to ask older people. There are topics and activities for all ages.

And true to quality intergenerational interaction, the exchange is reciprocal. Younger generations benefit from elders’ wisdom but they also contribute fresh insights, new perspectives and a vessel to carry history and wisdom forward.

People of all ages should be talking more and doing more about getting the vaccinations needed to build healthy communities for all generations.

Vaccines are a part of the commitment of caring between generations. Why? Because we are healthier together.

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