Opinion: Support SB 222 to improve access to children’s immunizations

By Stephanie Wasserman

We know that childhood vaccines are a safe, easy, and cost-effective way to help prevent disease and keep children healthy as they grow. Research shows that children who are vaccinated experience fewer doctor visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths. But, unfortunately, many kids dont have access to routine vaccinations. Thats why the Colorado Childrens Immunization Coalition (CCIC) comprised of over 300 doctors, researchers, public health experts, parents, and business leaders is supporting Senate Bill 222, which would help keep Colorado kids healthy by providing better access to vaccines.

CCIC was formed in 1991 to raise awareness and improve the states childhood immunization rates in response to the alarming statistic that only 50-to-55 percent of Colorado children were adequately immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases. Since then, CCIC has sought to improve access, delivery and demand for childrens vaccinations through provider education opportunities, public policy efforts, coalition building and community outreach and awareness. While we have made improvements over the years in Colorado, there is still work to be done. As the 2012 Colorado Health Report Card shows, only 78.5 percent of preschool-age children received all recommended doses of six key vaccines, ranking Colorado in the bottom half of all states.

Our existing system for funding childhood vaccines presents barriers to access, and Senate Bill 222 will help remove some of those obstacles so all Colorado kids can grow up healthy and strong. Having consistent access to childhood vaccines should not depend on a childs zip code, a familys ability to pay, or high costs or administrative burdens placed on a doctor.

Currently, many private doctors offices, especially rural practices in Colorado, are unable to keep up with the increasing costs and administrative burdens necessary to maintain an adequate supply of vaccines for their patients. Vaccine costs to fully immunize a child from 0 to 18 years of age have risen from $370 dollars per child in 2000 to almost $1,500 per child in 2010. Health care providers must invest the capital and administrative resources up front to purchase, store and manage inventory on vaccines that are currently reimbursed through a complicated financing system that includes private insurance, the state General Fund, and two federal grant programs. As a result of this and other reasons, many doctors dont provide vaccinations at all and instead refer patients to local public health agencies. With federal rules changing, these local public health agencies may have difficulty continuing to provide vaccines, especially for insured children.

Just last year Colorado experienced a whooping cough epidemic that exceeded a 64-year record, and sadly we lost five children to flu-related deaths. And in 2011, there were $11.5 million in hospitalization charges for children ages 0-4 years in Colorado with vaccine-preventable diseases. Its a scary and very real possibility that there will be more outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases if we do not increase access to vaccines.

The goal of Senate Bill 222 is to increase access to vaccines by lowering the cost, through such solutions as purchasing pools, and making vaccine administration simpler and more effective for immunization providers across Colorado. The bill directs the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to engage in a stakeholder process to discuss a wide variety of issues related to vaccine financing, ordering, and delivery and it directs the Board of Health to promulgate rules based on the outcomes of this stakeholder process.

There are many supporters of Senate Bill 222 including the Colorado Childrens Campaign, the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians, the Colorado Medical Society and the Colorado Public Health Association. Please show your support for Senate Bill 222 by contacting your Colorado Senator and House Representative at the Colorado General Assembly website. (You can find your current legislator here.)

Stephanie Wasserman, MSPH, is executive director for the Colorado Childrens Immunization Coalition (CCIC). A statewide, independent nonprofit, CCICs mission is to promote improved access, delivery, and demand for childrens vaccinations to keep Colorado healthy. CCIC does not accept funding from vaccine manufacturers or distributors. To learn more visit www.childrensimmunization.org

Opinions communicated in Solutions represent the view of individual authors, and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.