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World Immunization Week: Mobilizing Students to Vaccinate America

April 29, 2021


From the President

Robert A. Cain, DO 
President and CEO
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine

From the first known attempts at inoculation by the Chinese in 1000 CE, to Edward Jenner’s work against smallpox in the 1700s, and the many modern-day advances since then, vaccinations and immunizations have been a vital tool in the fight against disease and sickness. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all too familiar with the challenges, and importance, of developing and delivering lifesaving vaccines. As we commemorate World Immunization Week, we salute and thank everyone involved in the complicated and comprehensive efforts to educate and inoculate people around the world. The osteopathic medical education (OME) community can also take pride in the work we are doing here in the United States during this pandemic.

Disease prevention is a core principle of osteopathic medicine, and as such, our community has been actively participating and leading the charge against COVID-19 at many levels. Early in the pandemic, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine spearheaded the Students Assist America initiative both to ensure students could continue their education despite disruptions, while also utilizing their vital skills and knowledge to aid in the COVID-19 response. SAA is a partnership of 12 health professions education associations currently focused on actively engaging health professions students in national vaccination efforts. SAA helps coordinate schools and students to join the frontline fight in their communities. Most significantly, SAA’s advocacy led to the recent amendment to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act COVID-19 Declaration that authorizes students from designated health professions to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. This opens the door for almost one million skilled medical, nursing, pharmacy, dental, veterinary, PA, optometry and other health professions students to administer COVID-19 vaccines with supervision.

Colleges of osteopathic medicine have long taught students not only how to safely administer vaccines, but also about the proven, critical role of immunizations in protecting public health. During this current pandemic, many schools have been designated as vaccination sites and students have been volunteering to help wherever and however they can. This is in addition to the thousands of osteopathic physicians who have been serving on the front lines delivering vaccines and caring for patients in hospitals, clinics and offices across the country. 

All these efforts underscore the importance of doing everything possible to prevent diseases from spreading or occurring in the first place. There is no doubt that vaccines are one of our most powerful preventative tools. The World Health Organization estimates that immunization against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles alone prevents 2-3 million deaths annually. The United States has achieved a 100 percent reduction of cases and deaths for numerous vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and smallpox.  Vaccines have also greatly reduced deaths in many others, such as measles and influenza. The key is making these vaccines available to all and to educate the public about the true value and safety of inoculation. In both areas, the OME community continues to play a leading role. We take pride in this, but we also know there is much more work to be done, and that challenges remain as we strive for herd immunity. We strongly re-commit to continuing our work to get us there.