Child vaccine rates are low, Ohio effort aims to help

Britney Evans, RN, prepares to give a vaccine Friday, at PriMED Springboro Pediatrics, located at the Dayton Children's South Campus. The practice is continuing to reach out to parents and patients to encourage them to schedule, after health care visits fell early in the pandemic.  MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Britney Evans, RN, prepares to give a vaccine Friday, at PriMED Springboro Pediatrics, located at the Dayton Children's South Campus. The practice is continuing to reach out to parents and patients to encourage them to schedule, after health care visits fell early in the pandemic. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Health care providers are concerned Ohio children are behind on vaccinations and well check ups because of the pandemic, and Ohio Medicaid staff are launching efforts to get the children back on track.

Patient visits to doctors plummeted in the spring as coronavirus case counts spiked. Some parents are believed to be still hesitant to go back to their primary care provider because of COVID. Other children had their back-to-school vaccination routine disrupted.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid reported that between March and May Ohio had 101,786 fewer child screening services, 70,663 fewer vaccinations for children under 2, and 208,934 fewer dental services compared to the same period in 2019.

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Dr. Julie Lamb, pediatrician with Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton, said immunization or well visits are a chance to ask about other things, like diet and exercise, screen time, and anxiety and depression. She said she is seeing more depression symptoms in patients, especially among older children.

“That is a time to touch on all the important areas of the child’s life and just check in with the family and make sure they have the best advice on how to take care of their kids, to troubleshoot any problems that might be coming up and help the families cope,” Lamb said.

Lamb said it’s important to stay on track with vaccine schedules even if a child is learning remotely.

“If the vaccination rate drops too low, then we lose our herd immunity. Then the chances of outbreaks -- especially for measles and pertussis -- increases,” Lamb said.

There are signs that children are starting to come back to the doctor’s office. Lamb said they have seen visits starting to pick back up recently.

Dr. Sara Guerrero-Duby, with Dayton Children’s Pediatrics, said the hospital and the American Academy of Pediatricians been working to get the word out that it is safe to go back to your pediatrician.

“It looks like the trend for visits coming in, including for vaccinations, are going upward again,” Guerrero-Duby said.

Along with the childhood vaccines, providers are urging that children six months and older get flu vaccinations this time of year. Flu shots help protect children from serious flu complications, hospitalizations or death, and also this year flu shots reduce the potential for both a surge of flu and COVID-19 straining health care capacity.

Guerrero-Duby said they have more supply of nasal spray flu vaccinations this year, which can be helpful for children who don’t want a shot. She said their numbers show they gave out about the same number of flu vaccines in September this year as last year.

“The push was bigger this year and I think that will be reflected in October’s numbers," she said.

Along with primary care providers, Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County’s immunization clinic offers vaccinations, which are all done by appointment. To make an appointment call 937-225-4550.

Ohio Department of Medicaid and the five insurance companies that manage the plans are rolling out efforts aimed at closing the gap in childhood immunizations:

• Increasing mobile immunization capabilities. Providers that have mobile care units like hospital systems and health departments are working with Medicaid and the MCOs to hold immunization events in neighborhoods where a high percentage of Medicaid children need vaccinations.

• Providing outreach and scheduling support to Vaccines for Children program providers for immunization.

• Expanding options for families to obtain vaccinations by growing the network. This initiative will reimburse providers not enrolled in Vaccines for Children program until the immunization gap is reduced.

Ohio Medicaid director Maureen Corcoran said improving children’s health and ensuring their ability to thrive “is a cornerstone of the Medicaid program and a priority of Governor DeWine.”

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