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Is There an Association Between Local Health Department Organizational And Administrative Factors and Childhood Immunization Coverage Rates?

Author: JAMES RANSOM, KATHERINE SCHAFF, and LILLY KAN
Published in JHHSA, Vol. 34 No. 4

Background: Vaccines are valuable, cost-effective tools for preventing disease and improving community health. Despite the importance and ubiquity of vaccinations, childhood immunization coverage rates vary widely by geography, race, and ethnicity. These differences have been documented for nearly two decades, but their sources are poorly understood. Between 2005 and 2008, immunization staff of the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) visited 17 local health department (LHD) immunization programs in 10 states to assess their immunization service delivery (ISD) practices and their impact on community childhood immunization coverage rates.
Purpose: To qualitatively characterize LHD immunization programs and specific organizational factors underlying ISD performance challenges and successes related to community childhood immunization coverage rates.
Methods: Case studies were conducted in a convenience sample of 17 geographically and demographically diverse LHDs, predicated on each LHD’s childhood immunization coverage rates per data from the National Immunization Survey and/or Kindergarten Retrospective Survey. NACCHO staff selected LHDs with high (≥80% up to date [UTD]), moderate (≥75% UTD but <80% UTD), and low (<75% UTD) coverage rates. All immunization staff members interviewed (n=112) were included in focus group interviews at each LHD per a standard semi-structured interview script developed by NACCHO staff. Supporting documents from each LHD immunization program were also collected for inclusion in the analysis. Content and thematic analyses of interview transcripts and supporting documents were conducted.
Results: Two thematic dimensions and six key factors emerged from the data. The dimensions of the themes were success and challenge elements. The organizational factors that were associated with success and/or challenges with regard to improving childhood immunization coverage rates included 1) leadership: organizational leadership and management related to aligning ISD with other child-focused services within the LHD; 2) resources: organizational efforts focused on aligning federal and state ISD financing with local ISD needs; 3) politics: political advocacy and partnering with local community stakeholders, including local political entities and boards of health to better organize ISD; 4) community engagement/coalitions and partnerships: partnerships, coalitions, and community engagement to support local immunization-related decision-making and prioritization; 5) credibility: agency credibility and its ability to influence community attitudes and perspectives on the health department’s value in terms of child health; and 6) cultural competency of LHD staff: LHD staff members’ perceptions and understandings of its community’s cultural, economic, and demographic attributes shaped their responses to and understandings of the community and how they interacted with it in terms of service delivery.
Discussion: Public health researchers are in a nascent stage of understanding how health department organizational factors may contribute to specific community health outcomes, such as childhood immunization coverage rates. An implicit challenge to LHD immunization programs is to implement strategies that lead to equitable and high vaccination coverage among children, despite shrinking resources and community demographic differences. Community-specific attributes (e.g., poverty, lack of health insurance, or geographic isolation) affect childhood immunization coverage rates, but internal LHD aspects such as leadership and organizational culture also likely have a significant impact.

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