Local clinics provide free childhood immunizations
Health care officials know routine medical and immunization visits for children dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that adds to the fact that childhood vaccination rates in general in Colorado fall below the rest of the country.
According to the Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Report released by Children’s Hospital Colorado in April, Colorado falls below average in vaccination coverage for young children. Only 64% of Coloradans born in 2017 completed the recommended seven vaccine series by 24 months, which ranks Colorado 43rd out of 50 states. The report noted 78% of Colorado children born in 2017 had completed the recommended vaccine series by 35 months, which ranks Colorado 25th in routine immunizations for that age.
In 2019, Colorado children experienced more than 14,000 hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to vaccine-preventable diseases, the report noted, with the most common reasons for those medical trips due to influenza, pneumococcal disease, varicella disease (chickenpox) and pertussis (whooping cough).
The Children’s Hospital Colorado report encourages parents to call pediatrician or primary care providers to make sure children, and adolescents are up to date on their vaccinations.
“If we do not make up for these missed doses, thousands of Colorado children may be left vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases,” the April report noted. “The consequences of this period of under-vaccination may only become clear as social distancing measures decrease in the coming year.”
Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith wants to make sure all children in the county receive regular childhood vaccinations, and she hopes attention paid to COVID-19 and flu vaccines do not hinder other necessary childhood vaccines. That is one of the reasons the Routt County Public Health Department is joining the long list of local medical offices and pharmacies that already offer vaccines for free to eligible children through the federally funded Vaccines for Children program. VCF offers vaccines at no cost for children through age 18 who are either uninsured, underinsured, on Medicaid or Medicaid eligible and/or American Indian or Alaskan Native.
The county’s relatively new public health department will provide an added safety net for immunizations when the department begins providing childhood vaccine appointments later this month, Smith said. Routine immunizations for children will be given by appointment in the same small location where COVID-19 vaccines are currently administered at the department in the Routt County Courthouse annex building in downtown Steamboat Springs. Currently, the department provides that service in a converted breakroom, but Smith is looking forward to the fact the department will have two new clinic rooms in the county’s Health and Human Services building when it is completed in 2023.
“With the pandemic, a lot of people may not have kept up so well with childhood immunizations, so there is a focus statewide that children continue to be up to date,” Smith said.
The director said statistics show 78.7% of Routt County children ages 19-35 months were up to date on the childhood “gold standard” of seven vaccinations from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2020. Smith said some 850 children in Routt County are eligible for the free Vaccines for Children.
Eligible children can receive immunizations for free at many different Vaccines for Children locations across the county, ranging from South Routt Medical Center in Oak Creek to Northwest Colorado Health to Pediatrics of Steamboat Springs, including the satellite office in Hayden, to Memorial Regional Health Family Practice on Curve Court in Steamboat Springs.
More VFC information is available at CDC.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/index.html.
Childhood shots can be given and information recorded from multiple locations into the statewide Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS), so Colorado parents do not have to carry a paper record for immunizations. Parents from outside Colorado moving into the state do need to bring their children’s immunizations records from the other state to the first vaccine appointment in Colorado, Smith said.
Smith recommends that families find a medical home or primary care provider for their children for sick and well-child visits, which is why local medical providers participate in the free vaccine program, Smith said.
“Payment should not be a barrier to immunizations,” Smith said. “We always need to educate people that programs exist with a lot of coverage in our county and to take advantage of them to make sure kids are fully vaccinated. Routine childhood immunizations should always be on the radar of parents.”
One VFC program caveat: children whose existing health insurance covers the cost of vaccinations are not eligible for VFC vaccines, even when a claim for the cost of the vaccine and administration is denied for payment by the insurance carrier because the plan deductible has not been met.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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