The research, which appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health, found that parents who are given a photo calendar of their baby with the dates of upcoming immunizations clearly marked, are more likely to have their children vaccinated against childhood diseases than those who don't receive calendars.
At two neighborhood health centers in St. Louis, Matthew Kreuter, Ph.D., M.P.H., provided families with a computer generated calendar featuring a color picture of their child, information specifically tailored to their family and scheduled immunization dates.
At the end of the nine month enrollment period, 82 percent of the babies whose parents received the "ABC Immunization Calendar®" were up to date with their recommended immunization schedule. However, among families that did not receive calendars, only 65 percent of the children were up to date.
The study also tracked babies through the first 24 months of life. At age 24 months, 66 percent of babies whose families received calendars were up to date in their immunizations versus 47 percent of babies who did not receive calendars. In recent years, immunization rates in the City of St. Louis have ranged from 26 to 50 percent.
"Getting babies immunized 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 their other children. We want to reward their efforts with this unique reminder to keep them coming back over time," Dr. Kreuter said.
The color photograph of the baby is one of the calendar's essential features. Many participants had no professional photographs of their baby and valued the ones provided at each appointment. They were given a new color photograph and additional calendar pages every time they visited and their child received an immunization.
"The calendars served as an incentive for immunization," Dr. Kreuter said. "Programs that reward desirable behaviors can help address public health problems such as low childhood immunization rates."
Some families put the calendars into scrapbooks so they had a collection of photographs of their baby at different ages.
"One mother told us that when her grandmother died, the family put one of the calendars in the casket so she'd always have a picture of her great grandchild. If free studio-type photography motivates parents to have their child immunized, the small investment -about $1,200 - is worthwhile for many public health centers," Kreuter said.
The calendars also include useful information such as the telephone number of the health center, the names and birthdays of the baby, his or her siblings and the parent. The calendar also contains personalized age-specific recommendations for clinical preventive services, as well as home safety and general parenting tips.
The calendar project study was funded by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The ABC Immunization Calendar® received a national award at a United States Department of Health and Human Services conference in 2000. Calendars now are being distributed at six health centers through a grant underwritten by the Deaconess Foundation.
Saint Louis University School of Public Health is one of only 34 fully accredited schools of public health in the United States and the nation's only School of Public Health sponsored by a Jesuit university. It offers masters degrees (MPH, MHA) and doctoral programs (Ph.D.) in six public health disciplines and joint degrees with the Schools of Allied Health, Business, Law, Medicine, Nursing and Social Service. It is home to seven nationally recognized research centers and laboratories with funding sources that include the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the American Cancer Society, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the World Health Organization.