April 28, 2014
OHCA Contacts: Jo Kilgore - (405) 522-7474, Jennie Melendez - (405) 522-7404
Immunization Week Gives State Agencies New Shot At Boosting Childhood Vaccinations
Immunization prevents an estimated 2-3 million deaths worldwide each year, yet 1 in 5 children don’t receive vaccinations. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) have created a new partnership to dispel the myths associated with childhood immunizations and increase the number of Oklahoma children receiving the complete recommended series of vaccinations. National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), set for April 26 – May 3, provides a timely opportunity for the agencies to educate parents on the importance and the positive impact of vaccinations on the lives of our infants and children.
Health care professionals recommend that parents protect their children from vaccine-preventable illnesses from birth. Children who aren’t vaccinated pose a potential danger to their entire community. Even if those around them have been vaccinated, there is still a risk of exposure – no vaccine is 100 percent effective. As a result, outbreaks can lead not only to illness but to lifelong disabilities (e.g. permanent brain damage) and death.
“It is extremely critical for all children in Oklahoma to receive a full series of immunizations,” said OHCA’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sylvia Lopez. Dr. Lopez, a board certified pediatrician/neonatologist, was in private practice in the Oklahoma City area for 25 years prior to joining the OHCA. “That we are able to impact the prevalence of infectious diseases not only protects your child but also the children around them.”
According to the OSDH, Oklahoma currently ranks 48th in the nation for the percent of children up-to-date with their primary vaccines, and only 61 percent of babies and toddlers 19 through 35 months of age in Oklahoma have completed their vaccines. Common barriers to immunization range from scheduling conflicts for parents and fear of side effects to a child being sick at their appointment time. The OHCA and OSDH have created a new Immunization workgroup to address these challenges. Through targeted outreach efforts, the workgroup aims to increase the number of completed 15-shot immunization series (4:3:1:3:3:1) for the 19-35-month age group in one of the state’s undervaccinated counties – Bryan County. The pilot is scheduled to run June 1 through December 30.
“In Oklahoma, we tend to start immunizations on time, but it takes an effort to keep up,” said Lopez. She added that if a child’s vaccinations aren’t up-to-date, parents and caregivers can help get things back on schedule by simply contacting their doctor to get them done in a timely manner.
Infants and Children covered by SoonerCare (Oklahoma Medicaid) can receive life-saving immunizations for FREE as part of their benefit package. In addition, SoonerRide is available to help with transportation for these scheduled appointments. SoonerCare members can find more details by visiting www.okhca.org or contacting the SoonerCare Helpline at 800-987-7767. Parents with children not covered under SoonerCare can receive immunizations through private health insurance or the Vaccine for Children’s (VFC) program (http://imm.health.ok.gov). All county health departments and many private doctors in Oklahoma participate in the VFC program.
For those who worry about the safety of immunizations, please contact your health care provider to get the facts. Delaying or withholding vaccinations can have grave consequences. Lopez said providers must talk to parents and caregivers about their legitimate concerns.
“Proper immunization of children is everyone’s responsibility,” said Lopez.
To learn more about NIIW and to get additional childhood immunization resources, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niiw/overview.html.
Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, known as SoonerCare, is administered by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA). SoonerCare works to improve the health outcomes of Oklahomans by ensuring that medically necessary benefits and services are responsive to the health care needs of our members. Qualifying Oklahomans include certain low-income children, seniors, the disabled, those being treated for breast or cervical cancer and those seeking family planning services. Insure Oklahoma assists qualifying adults and small business employees in obtaining health care coverage for themselves and their families. OHCA strives to educate and engage our current 818,063 members regarding personal responsibilities for their health services utilization, behaviors, and outcomes in partnership with a state-wide network of 38,305 providers. For more information, visit www.okhca.org.