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Immunization changes leave parents scrambling

By JR Ortega
Aug. 15, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.


THE NEW RULES

Children who have private insurance that cover vaccines will no longer be eligible for low-cost vaccines in public health department clinics. They will be referred to their private health care providers.

Underinsured children will continue to receive immunizations from public health departments, and rural health centers. Underinsured children include children whose insurance does not cover vaccines.

People who begin a vaccine series while 18 or younger can finish that series through public health clinics as long as it's completed before their 20th birthday.

SOURCE: Texas Department of State Health Services, dshs.state.tx.us

Some parents are scrambling to get their students vaccinated because of state cuts this year.

The biggest change in the Texas Vaccines for Children Program is affecting people with health insurance who are visiting state health departments. They can no longer receive low-cost vaccinations.

The policy changes, made by the Texas Department of State Health Services, went into effect Jan. 1.

No one in the Crossroads has probably felt the brunt of this change like JoAnn Settles, who would have co-chaired her 19th Shots Across Texas free immunization clinic.

Settles, who belongs to the Sunrise Rotary Club, typically coordinates the event with the Victoria Rotary Club and the Northside Rotary Club.

But this year, the inability to receive the doses needed to vaccinate children in time for school forced the event to be canceled.

"I was just dumbfounded," Settles said. "Devastated."

Last year, the event vaccinated 160 children with about 300 doses of immunizations needed to attend school.

The Rotary clubs spent 18 years raising awareness about the importance of vaccinations and helping get more kids vaccinated. Now, Settles worries about undoing those years of hard work.

"We're out of the business at this point," Settles said. "We were happy to have some way to close that gap."

Bain Cate, director of the Victoria-City-County Health Department, shared Settles' worries.

Cate said all public health departments receive vaccination doses from the state health department and have been told those vaccinations are to only be given to the uninsured or underinsured.

"This policy is going to result in decreased immunization rates for children over the next two to three years," Cate said in an email. "Hopefully, there will not be any disease outbreaks to go with that decrease."

The department is having to turn away those who have private insurance coverage, Cate said. They have to either make an appointment through their private health provider or pharmacies, such as H-E-B or Walgreens.

But some people are cheating the system, he said. Cate has heard reports of people who have insurance but deny having any so they can receive discounted shots.

The health department has no time or mechanism to check whether a person has insurance because it never had to do so, Cate said.

For those going to a private physician, vaccination doses are more limited and more expensive.

For instance, the Tdap vaccine, which prevents tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, costs $10 at the health department. At other providers, those with insurance will have to pay roughly $60.

The health department "has always filled a niche in that arena, and has been the 'go to' place for all children needing immunizations," Cate said.

Receiving these immunizations before school starts is a must for students attending the Victoria public schools, spokeswoman Diane Boyett said.

The school district, however, does not vaccinate children.

Students who have been enrolled with the district must have up-to-date immunization records on the first day of school, or else they must stay home. New students enrolling may attend classes but have 30 days to show proof of vaccinations.

"We have to protect our students," Boyett said. "It doesn't only protect them, but also the one being vaccinated."

All first-time incoming college freshmen this year are required to received a meningitis vaccination, regardless of whether they live on campus.

These prices can range anywhere from $135 to $155 at local pharmacies and doctors offices, said Missy Klimitchek, the registrar at Victoria College.

"It's very difficult," said Klimitchek about the high costs. "It has also put a huge strain not only on Victoria College. We've never before had to monitor medical records."

At VC, students have until the 10th class day to show proof of vaccination. If proof isn't shown, the student will be dropped from all courses.

Regardless of all the changes and confusion, Cate said, parents are doing the right thing by continuing to vaccinate their children.

The health department "has been very busy on immunization days, and I am very thankful for that," he said.

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