Believed to be one of the greatest medical advancements, vaccines are known as the best form of preventive care. For millions of people, vaccines have protected them from diseases, which wouldrequire complex and costly care if contracted. While getting vaccinated seems like the obvious choice, barriers to care remain a problem, and despite efforts, racial and ethnic disparities in vaccination rates still exist. Today, as we focus on improving the health of our communities, improving vaccination rates is an important area to focus on.
From children to adults, vaccination rates for low-income households need improvement. Among children, those from low-income families are more likely to be under-vaccinated. A recent study, confirmed that the likelihood that affluent and white children receive their recommended immunizations is greater than their low-income and non-white peers. Adult vaccination rates are no better. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), racial and ethnic disparities remain for the six most common adult vaccinations.
With lower vaccination rates, it’s no surprise that poorer neighborhoods are more likely to see diseases and illness spread in cases where vaccines could have played a preventative role. For instance, the flu tends to hit harder in neighborhoods where many fall below poverty level. Due to a number of causes, including low flu vaccination rates and other environmental factors, people from poorer neighborhoods were nearly twice as likely to suffer from the flu than more affluent neighborhoods.
The Affordable Care Act and programs such as the Vaccines for Children have made great strides to make vaccine more readily available and affordable. However, today, disparities in vaccination rates exist because of additional barriers. Lack of access, transportation, and a general understanding continue to pose issues.
Health systems, insurance plans, and local government organizations are doing their part to help reduce these barriers and improve vaccination rates. For example, Children’s Community Health Plan, an HMO owned by Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, was able to increase childhood immunization rates after making a concerted effort to improve access. The organization set up clinics in schools, community centers and churches. As a result, their member compliance rate became the highest in their area. Another example comes from the Salt Lake Health Department. The department is one of many across the country that have tried to provide vaccinations and protect those most vulnerable. This year, more than 500 free flu shots were given out to uninsured and homeless living in the county.
It is undeniable that vaccines prevent illnesses and provide savings. As we focus on population health, more can be done to connect individuals who need and may have trouble receiving their recommended immunizations.