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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 00:08 GMT
Baby pictures boost vaccination
Reprinted with permission from Health Communication Research Laboratory, St Louis University
A scheme which hands out a personalised calendar complete with pictures of your child is boosting vaccination rates in the US.

In St Louis, where as few as a quarter of eligible children get all their jabs, uptake rose by 50% on average.

The calendars have key dates ringed so that parents find it easy to work out when to visit the doctor.

In the UK, vaccination rates are generally higher - but experts say that similar schemes could still help.

There are a plethora of different vaccinations offered to babies in their first two years of life, and the confusing sequence sometimes means that jabs are missed.

St Louis physician Dr Matthew Kreuter came up with the idea of generating immunisation reminders tailored for each baby by computer.

High quality

To ensure that parents hung on to these calendars, they included a high quality image of their baby - as many patients in deprived inner-city St Louis cannot afford to have professional photographs taken.

After one year, 82% of the "calendar babies" were up to date with their immunisations - compared with 65% of children that did not receive calendars.

After two years, two-thirds of those with calendars were up to date, compared with 47% of those without.

In St Louis, rates have varied from 26% to 50% in recent years.

Dr Kreuter said: "Getting babies immunised is very important for families and the community.

"But it's also difficult for many parents because of challenges with transportation, busy work schedules and finding childcare for other children.

"We want to reward their efforts with this unique reminder to keep them coming back over time."

New photo

Every time a child attends an immunisation session, the photograph is updated with a new one - so at the end of the process, the parents will have a varied selection of good quality photographs.

The whole process costs the public health system approximately $1,200 per child, but Dr Kreuter says this is worthwhile.

In the UK, immunisation rates are generally higher, but Dr Nigel Higson, Chairman of the Primary Care Virology Group, said that it might be useful in communities where low uptake existed, such as travelling communities.

He said: "It's a very good idea, but on the whole it is not needed in the UK.

"We already have a system of reminders to tell parents when vaccinations are needed - although this can be confusing sometimes."

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