State immunization rate reaches important milestone: Local statistics tell a different story

By Claire Ninde
San Juan Basin Public Health

As Colorado reaches an important immunization milestone, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) urges parents not to delay important doctor visits for infants, children and adolescents. 

In July, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced it exceeded a 2019-20 goal to have at least 90 percent of Colorado’s kindergartners vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). This represents an improvement over 2018-19 when Colorado ranked last among all U.S. states with a kindergarten MMR vaccination rate of just 87.4 percent. 

Childhood vaccinations help build “community immunity” (also known as “herd immunity”) to protect an entire population. Community immunity also protects people who can’t be vaccinated due to age, a compromised immune system or underlying illness. In order to reach community immunity, MMR vaccine rates need to be between 93 and 95 percent.

In La Plata and Archuleta counties, however, only 88 percent of kindergartners received MMR vaccination during 2019-20. SJBPH warns that the region’s already low childhood vaccination rates could drop even further as parents put off doctor visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Routine well-child visits are being postponed and some parents are avoiding going to the doctor for fear of contracting the coronavirus,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “However, vaccines protect against life-threatening diseases and protecting your child’s immune system are especially important this school year. Doctors’ offices practice thorough infection control and the risk of contracting the virus while at a vaccination appointment is very low. We encourage all families to continue their well-child appointments and receive the recommended vaccinations.”

When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk of contracting and spreading diseases to others, including classmates and family members. Local health care providers have implemented appropriate office, cleaning and PPE procedures to make it safe for babies and children to get vaccines. Parents with concerns about in-person doctor visits should call their local health care provider to get details on safety precautions and to answer any questions they have. 

Families who lack insurance or can’t afford care should contact SJBPH’s Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The program is federally funded to provide vaccinations to children regardless of ability to pay. Children who are 0-18 years of age qualify if they:

• are insured through Medicaid or are Medicaid eligible,

• are Native American/Native Alaskan,

• have no health insurance,

• are underinsured — meaning that their health insurance does not cover the vaccine, or

• have reached their vaccine cap.

The VFC program can be reached at 335-2015. 

Parents and guardians can find out more about the required school immunizations and recommended schedule at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/. 

 Colorado also has the following tools to help parents and guardians make informed choices about vaccinating their children:

• SpreadTheVaxFacts.com guides people through information and misinformation about vaccines with advice from Colorado doctors who also are parents.

• COVax4Kids.org helps people find out if their children are eligible for low- or no-cost vaccines and helps them find a provider who gives them.

• COVaxRecords.org lets people know how to request vaccination records for their children.

For more information about SJBPH’s immunization clinic and hours, please visit https://sjbpublichealth.org/immunizations/.

This story was posted on August 14, 2020.