Raise Your Guard: Vaccination rates down 50% in some cases

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A new campaign designed to counter the sharp decline in vaccination rates among Kentucky children launched Thursday across the state.

‘Raise Your Guard, KY’ urges Kentuckians to contact their physicians to get themselves and their families back on track with scheduled immunizations to prevent dozens of life-threatening diseases and illnesses.

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The month-long, multimedia campaign also reminds residents to get their annual flu shots starting in September to help keep their immune systems strong.

‘Raise Your Guard, KY’ is funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Kentucky.

“Disparities persist between Medicaid beneficiaries and Kentuckians with private insurance in terms of immunization rates,” noted Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “Immunization Awareness Month is the ideal time to take actions that lead to closing this gap.”

“It’s vitally important, particularly during a pandemic, to take proven steps to prevent other infectious diseases that can cause community outbreaks,” said Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner for the Department for Public Health. “During a time when so much seems out of our control, boosting vaccination rates is something we can accomplish together.”

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman also supports the campaign: “During this time of upheaval and uncertainty, there’s one thing we know for sure: Vaccines work. My six-month-old daughter, Evelynne, has begun her immunizations. Like all parents, we want her to grow up healthy and safe. I applaud the Raise Your Guard, KY campaign. Let’s work together for the health of our commonwealth.”

Nationwide, vaccine orders began a “notable” decline the week after COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in March, according to the CDC.

In Kentucky, even before the pandemic, many Kentucky infants and toddlers were living in counties where fewer than half of the children their age are immunized against chicken pox, polio, rubella and meningitis.

Similarly, in many Kentucky counties, fewer than half of Kentucky teens received their meningitis booster in 2019.

For Kentuckians on Medicaid during the four-month period of March to June 2020, immunization rates declined 28 percent for children below two years of age, 46 percent for children ages four through six, and 57 percent for adolescents compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Kentucky Department for Medicaid Services.

“Childhood immunization rates in Kentucky have yet to recover from the sharp decline during the first several months of the coronavirus pandemic, putting tens of thousands of children at risk for a host of dangerous, vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “The decline also reduces the ‘herd immunity’ that protects all Kentuckians from diseases such as measles, mumps and hepatitis.”

“Kentucky physicians’ offices are open and safe,” said Dale Toney, M.D., president of the Kentucky Medical Association. “Updating our immunizations is one of the safest and most effective things we can do to protect ourselves and our communities. And by preventing some diseases, our immune systems are better able to ward off or minimize the impact of others – like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”

“Thanks to effective vaccines, many of us living today don’t remember what it was like when diseases such as polio, whooping cough and smallpox infected millions of people every year, and left tens of thousands dead or permanently disabled,” said Jeff Reynolds, M.D., medical director of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky. “Vaccines are critical to protecting people’s and the public’s health and safety.”

Dr. Lewis Hargett, president of the Falls City Medical Society, also added his endorsement: “In recent months, families have been doing their part by staying at home as much as possible to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As communities reopen, it’s essential to see a physician regularly to discuss any health concerns, as well as to make sure you and your family are caught up on vaccinations. They are a vital part of keeping our community safe and our economy open and functioning well.”

“It’s time to Raise Your Guard, Kentucky, by visiting your physician and updating your immunizations,” said Shawn Jones, M.D., president of the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care.