Health officials warn a lag in childhood vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to outbreaks of other preventable diseases after school starts in the fall.
Routine vaccinations dropped dramatically early in the pandemic, and although they started picking up last summer, many children and teens still need their shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a recent report. Delays may result in outbreaks of illnesses, including measles, mumps and whooping cough.
“Immunizations help prevent disease and keep our children healthy,” says Dr. Wei-Ann Bay, chief medical officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM). “The more children vaccinated, the healthier our communities are.”
Better data drives member outreach
To improve vaccination rates, BCBSNM and the New Mexico Department of Health are working together to more accurately determine which members are behind on immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases, including COVID-19. The state agency, which collects immunization records for all New Mexicans, and the insurer have linked their systems, which allows BCBSNM to better identify and reach out to members in need of vaccinations.
“The more children vaccinated, the healthier our communities are.”
The effort began earlier this year to boost vaccination rates for BCBSNM members. It has helped BCBSNM more than double its vaccination rate tracking.
“One of the greatest achievements is to identify who has been vaccinated,” Bay says. “We’re going to continue to work with providers and determine which members are still missing vaccinations.”
Before teaming with the state, BCBSNM only received updates as often as it was able to make immunization queries, making it more difficult to target and remind members to get their shots. To try to bridge gaps, the company used claims information, which often wasn’t up-to-date or complete. For example, some vaccine providers may not submit insurance claims.
“We weren’t getting all the data” says Bay, adding that BCBSNM’s commercial member vaccination rate now is nearly 70%. “The data sharing was an important step.”
The new collaboration allows BCBSNM to track immunizations, no matter where members got them or whether an insurance claim was filed — doctor’s offices, health departments, retail pharmacies or mobile health clinics.
After vaccine gaps are identified, BCBSNM customer service representatives notify members, offer vaccine education and determine whether they need assistance finding immunization providers. Additionally, BCBSNM will share vaccine data with providers and employer groups and encourage them to reach out to members in need of immunizations.
The insurer also plans to support the state health department’s annual “Got Shots?” campaign to get children vaccinated before school starts.
The CDC said in its report that preventing new outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases “requires a consolidated and coordinated effort among multiple partners to promote catching up and staying up to date on routine vaccinations for children of all ages.”
“We have seen that the trend between child and adolescent vaccinations is very different,” she says, adding that getting teens vaccinated is as important as immunizing younger children. “All childhood immunizations are very important,” Bay says. “We don’t want to see a resurgence of these diseases.”