Thousands of insured children who may have received vaccines from county health departments — including one in Mesa — are now being encouraged to go to their family doctors for their shots.
Beginning Oct. 1, counties can no longer use federal dollars to fund vaccinations of children who have private health insurance. In the past, there were no such restrictions. Any child who had not reached their 19th birthday could come to a county health office or county-run vaccine clinic for a shot.
The county drew from its federal “317” dollars to fund vaccines for those children.
Uninsured children, American Indians and children with Medicaid will continue to receive their vaccines for free from the federally funded Vaccinations for Children program.
The state does not provide any money to Arizona’s immunization program, a cut made during the budget crunch of the last few years.
Children with insurance came to the county health offices or clinics for a number of reasons, said Jennifer Tinney, program manager for The Arizona Partnership for Immunization or TAPI. Some came because they were new to the Valley and did not have an established doctor to see. Others came because their insurance did not cover vaccines or they had a high deductible.
In rural parts of Arizona, county health departments saw several patients because doctors in the area could not afford to purchase vaccines and store them.
Maricopa County health officials estimate that between 6 percent and 10 percent of the 60,000 children seen yearly by its health department do have private health insurance.
While the county started a program four years ago to bill private insurance companies, not all insurance companies are on board, prompting the call for parents to take their children to their doctors first, and a community health clinic second.
“We want those privately insured kids to go to their doctors. But if the doctors don’t have the vaccine, it’s most important for the kids to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Bob England, director of the county health department.
England is looking at funds in other areas to help provide vaccines in those situations.
One of the biggest changes will be seen in hospitals. The state immunization program previously provided the hepatitis B vaccine to every child born in every hospital, Tinney said. Some mothers may know not they’re infected with the disease, which can cause chronic liver infections. It can be passed to the baby, but can be stopped with a vaccine at birth, health officials said.
Now, beginning Oct. 1, hospitals must purchase a separate inventory of the vaccine to use for insured patients, and then bill the insurance company for the shot.
From birth through a child’s 19th birthday, there are several vaccines used to keep them healthy from diptheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, varicella (chicken pox), and hepatitis to the influenza vaccine created each year. By vaccinating most children — ideally above 95 percent — you create “herd immunity,” which makes it difficult for a disease to find someone to infect.
When vaccination rates drop below 95 percent for some diseases, there is a bigger chance for an outbreak.
“Ultimately, it costs more if we have an outbreak than if we vaccinate kids,” Tinney said.
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