Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Texas Children’s Vaccination Rates Slowly Improving, But Children in Poverty Lag Behind

National Immunization Survey, 2015

By Ryan D. Van Ramshorst, MD, FAAP
San Antonio Pediatrician

Vaccination is one of the most critical tools I use in my practice to keep my patients and their families healthy. Vaccines prevent young children from becoming critically ill with influenza, reduce the risk for severe diarrhea from rotavirus, and keep devastating infectious diseases like measles at bay. 

Texas Sees Measured Improvement in Child Vaccination Rates 

The recently released 2015 National Immunization Survey (NIS) shows some promising results. Nationwide, the vaccination rates for children aged 19-35 months remained high and stable. In Texas, rates for MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), hepatitis A and B, and rotavirus surpass those of our region and nationally. 

Physicians work with other public health professionals to ensure vaccines continue to protect children and save lives. The NIS is conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assess vaccine coverage rates in multiple age groups, including young children and teenagers. Such studies help ensure physicians are getting vaccines to those who need them most — children!

After a notable drop in vaccine coverage rates during 2013-14, Texas’ coverage rates for most of the vaccines studied actually have increased when compared with 2014 levels. Some of the most notable increases were in completion of the combined vaccination series (a combination of seven recommended vaccines for children aged 19-35 months) and in rotavirus vaccine. Another encouraging result is that children who received no vaccinations remained at less than 1 percent nationwide.  

The greatest opportunity for improvement on a national level involves ensuring adequate access to vaccines for children living below the poverty level. The 2015 NIS showed, for nearly each vaccination studied, that children in poverty lagged far behind children at or above poverty. 

What do these results mean? Overall, it looks like we are doing an adequate job of ensuring children receive much-needed vaccinations. Texas has made some notable improvements in our vaccination coverage, and we should be proud of that. However, the notable disparity in vaccine coverage with relation to poverty is concerning. 

Room for Improvement

Physicians should work with their communities and local policymakers to ensure widespread participation in the Vaccines for Children program, which provides vaccines to children who are uninsured, underinsured, or insured with public programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Similarly, protections called for by the Affordable Care Act should be preserved at all costs. Such protections include requiring insurers to make vaccines available to children with no copayments or cost-sharing requirements when administered by an in-network provider. Finally, physicians can partner with communities, public health departments, and schools to host vaccination outreach activities, such as those offered through the Texas Medical Association’s Be Wise — ImmunizeSM campaign. Together, we can ensure our children and communities continue to benefit from widespread vaccination coverage.

Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association. 

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