Childhood Immunization Initiative

Immunizations are an important part of a healthy community. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates for vaccine-preventable disease in the United States have dropped by 99 percent since vaccines were introduced in the early 20th century.

Yet today, nearly a third of children in Washington state miss one or more recommended vaccinations. Health care providers, parents, teachers, and children's health advocates now fear that declining immunization rates have put our children and our communities at risk — from diseases that, not long ago, had been practically stamped out.

School Exemption Rates on the Rise

These shaded maps of Washington state, broken down by county, indicate the percentage of children whose parents opt out of at least one vaccine required for school. The number of counties with an exemption rate greater than 5 percent has grown more than 500 percent over the last decade.

School exemption rates by county in Washington for 1999 and 2008-2009

Closing the Immunization Gap

Multiple factors contribute to low childhood immunization rates and we know that no single solution will solve the problem. The Group Health Foundation and its partners are now testing evidence-based approaches grounded in these coordinated strategies:

Addressing vaccine hesitancy: Today, inaccurate and misleading information about vaccines is commonplace. Increasing numbers of parents grow confused and wonder which sources to trust. Mounting parental uncertainly about a simple preventive measure — once considered a miracle — results in more children who delay or skip vital immunizations altogether.

Washington is a bellwether state for parental vaccine hesitancy — in fact, the number of kindergartners who enter school lacking one or more vaccines in our state has more than doubled over the past ten years and is more than three times the national average.

Also see: Group Health Pediatricians Concerned About Falling Immunization Rates

Helping parents to promote immunization in their own communities: Research tells us parents trust their peers; they consult other parents when making vaccine decisions for their children. The Group Health Foundation is funding a pilot project to find effective ways that help parents share accurate, reliable immunization information with peers in their school communities. This three-year pilot launched in 2011 and concludes in 2014.

Creating new communications tools for providers: As parents encounter more misinformation about vaccines, they naturally need more time to discuss concerns about immunizations with their family health care team. In today's climate of vaccine doubt, providers need new tools to get parents information they need to make the best decisions for their children. The Group Health Research Institute, with funding from the Group Health Foundation, is testing new tools in clinical settings using a scientific trial. The study concludes in 2013.

Increasing Access to Vaccines

Most children get vaccinated during routine checkups with their family doctors. But in today's rough economy, more and more families go without health insurance, meaning that children may not have a regular health care provider, may miss annual checkups — and therefore miss out on their vaccinations. Group Health has teamed with local health departments and school districts in Pierce, King, and Spokane counties to provide free vaccine clinics — vaccinating nearly 17,000 children with over 33,000 vaccines over the last three years.

Also see: Gates Foundation Grant Supports Vax Northwest Partnership

The Foundation sponsored free vaccination clinics in 11 school districts in the three counties. Rates of complete immunizations increased in 10 of those 11 districts, while seven school districts achieved rates that exceeded the state average.

Responding to the Pertussis Epidemic

In 2012, cases of pertussis (whooping cough) reached numbers not seen for decades in Washington state. The Group Health Foundation responded by sponsoring free vaccine clinics for the underinsured and uninsured. The Foundation also is building new tools to help public health agencies better alert their communities about this epidemic, and with a vital goal: get as many people as possible vaccinated.

Partnerships With Public Health

Local health departments work everyday to keep our communities healthy and safe. The Foundation helps health departments in King, Pierce, and Spokane counties develop community-based strategies to increase childhood immunization rates, including school and child center immunization records review (to identify those lacking vaccinations), direct outreach to parents, and health promotion campaigns.

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