The drop in childhood immunization rates is one of the lingering challenges as we learn to live with COVID-19. Public health officials from the CDC to California’s Department of Public Health have expressed concern.
Locally, Health Plan of San Joaquin (HPSJ) shares this concern. Children ages 18 and under account for 40% of the more than 400,000 Health Plan of San Joaquin members in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. HPSJ, along with other Central Valley public, nonprofit health plans serving Medi-Cal beneficiaries, has long had challenges reaching parents in our communities. Before the pandemic, we started to see downward childhood immunization trends.
However, between 2019 to 2021, HPSJ saw a steep decrease in the utilization of primary care services and immunization rates for children from birth through the adolescent population. The vaccinations at these ages are essential to protecting our children and community from devastating disease. Community organizations, county public health agencies, local businesses, and educators also share our concerns for all San Joaquin children.
“Childhood immunization is important because research shows it saves children’s lives, promotes herd immunity, and creates safe learning spaces for students, said Sheri Coburn, director of the Comprehensive Health Division for the San Joaquin County Office of Education. “County nurses work in partnership with San Joaquin Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park and County Public Health Services to supply and organize school-based immunization clinics. Many students are fully immunized before the school year begins. For others, there are school nurses waiting from the first day of school, prepared to immunize students, with parental consent, so they may attend school.”
Still, many of our children are missing immunizations, leading to increased risk for otherwise preventable diseases.
Read more:Thousands without childhood vaccinations unable to return to school
One of the lessons HPSJ and our partners learned during the pandemic is that focused community impact has power, and we must take greater care reaching out and listening to HPSJ’s multicultural, multilingual, diverse neighborhoods and communities – often standing with influential leaders and community-based organizations. We understand that it is critical to educate our members on the importance of childhood vaccinations while removing barriers to care for parents and caregivers.
HPSJ is committed to broad local and provider partnerships that give practical support and educate our members and community. One example of this commitment is Caravan for Health, where HPSJ collaborates with community providers to execute health-focused events in locations and at times more convenient for our HPSJ member families.
HPSJ also implemented a Back to Care Initiative where we work strategically with our network of doctors and providers to support families in by improving access to regular preventative health care. It is at these office visits where infants, kids and teens are kept on schedule for their age-appropriate vaccinations. We also remove more barriers for HPSJ members and families by providing free transportation and appointment reminder services that support them in keeping appointments with their primary care offices and for their related healthcare needs.
These are calls for action! We invite you to join us at an upcoming Caravan for Health (hpsj.com/care/) local event with our partners. Also, call your child’s doctor to schedule a wellness checkup and stay on track with their childhood vaccinations — then remind other parents and caregivers to do the same. We can help protect thousands of children from communicable diseases and strengthen the health of our community, one child at a time.
Dr. Priti Golechha, a board-certified pediatrician, is associate chief medical officer at the Health Plan of San Joaquin.
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