NPR

Fewer Kids Get Vaccinated As Parents Worry About Side Effects

A nurse gives a young boy a vaccination. (AFP/Getty Images)

After years of steady progress, the percentage of 2-year-olds in private health plans getting immunized dropped last year.

The findings come in a report released Wednesday by the National Committee on Quality Assurance, which keeps track of how well health insurers are doing at getting the right care for the people they cover.

Some details on the drop in vaccinations:

  • Measles, mumps and rubella rates fell to 90.6 percent in 2009 from 93.5 percent in 2008.
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough fell to 85.4 percent last year from 87.2 percent in 2008.
  • Chickenpox slipped to 90.6 percent in 2009 from 92 percent in 2008.

Insurers attribute the decline to parents' fears that vaccinations could be linked to autism. Though public health experts and government studies have found no evidence that vaccinations cause autism, the subject has been subject of fierce debate on the Internet and outspoken celebrities have fueled the controversy.

"Vaccination paranoia is out there," said George Halvorson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, of the nation’s largest health plans. But he also said it is unclear if the one-year drop signals a trend.

"It's a disturbing drop … parents are putting children in danger due to misinformation," said Margaret O'Kane, NCQA president.

Dr. Roberta Herman, chief medical officer for Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, a health plan based in Wellesley, Mass., said her company has seen the falloff in vaccination. "Parents feel overwhelmed at the current schedule of immunizations," she said.  As a result, some parents may be delaying some shots.

The study, which examined quality data from more than 1,000 health plans that cover a total of 118 million Americans, found that vaccination rates increased in children who were in Medicaid.

Despite the increase, vaccination rates last year were still mostly higher among children in private health plans than Medicaid (for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, the vaccination rate was about 80 percent for Medicaid and 85 percent for private plans).

Editor's note: Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-policy organization that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Copyright 2014 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.

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