Health of America Report shows improved childhood vaccination rates, but there’s more work to do

Greg Sweat, M.D. — January 24, 2018

As we face an especially hard-hitting flu season this winter, you’ve probably been urged to get your flu shot – an important step to protect yourself from the illness. Vaccines, including the flu shot, are critical to help keep you and your loved ones healthy and happy, especially children and older adults who are most vulnerable.

Outside of the seasonal flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a series of vaccinations for all children by the time they turn two years and three months old. While these recommendations are supported by industry leaders and the medical community at large, a need remains for increased education and participation in childhood vaccinations, according to a new report.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) recently shared the results of its Health of America Report, “Early Childhood Vaccination Trends in America,” a comprehensive account of outpatient medical claims from BCBS members who were vaccinated by the age of 2 years and 3 months between 2010 and 2016.*

Findings at-a-glance

The report found that childhood vaccination rates climbed 12 percent between 2010 and 2016 nationally. Data show 69 percent of young BCBS members born in 2010 were up-to-date on their CDC-recommended vaccinations by the age of 2 years and 3 months, compared to 77 percent of children born in 2013.

While overall rates improved, the study found that childhood vaccination rates varied geographically. For children born in 2013, variation by state ranges from 86 percent in North Dakota to 63 percent in Nevada. Variation by metropolitan statistical area ranges from a high of 92 percent in Fargo, N.D., to a low 56 percent in Albany, N.Y.

What about vaccination rates in our region?

In the Kansas City region, data show childhood vaccination rates

for children born in 2013 hover just above the national reported average at 79.4 percent. More broadly, Kansas falls at 80.4 percent and Missouri at 78.3 percent, compared to the national 77 percent average.

Although higher than the national average, instances of under-vaccination and vaccine refusal remains in our region. Education around this important practice must continue if we hope to fully protect our children from preventable infectious diseases. As a primary care physician with years of experience in family medicine, vaccination is one of the easiest ways to ensure a child’s long-term health and safety.

Why are childhood vaccinations important?

Childhood vaccination is often considered one of the top public health accomplishments of the twentieth century, lending to increases in life expectancy and childhood survival. Additionally, vaccines are among the most cost-effective clinical preventative services offered.

Despite the progress in recent years, approximately 42,000 adults and 300 children in the United States die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases.** Communities with pockets of unvaccinated and under-vaccinated populations are at an increased risk for outbreaks.

Why do people not get their children vaccinated?

The Health of America Report found that the primary reason for under-vaccination was failure to attend routine well-child visits. In 2016, this reason was given 62 percent of the time.

Another reason is due to parental or guardian refusal. It’s reported that between 2010 and 2013, there was a 70 percent increase in vaccination refusals nationally—a jump from about 2.5 percent to 4.2 percent overall. These refusals can be the result of many factors, including misinformation or misunderstanding.

Here are two ways you can help:

  1. Spread the word about the importance of vaccination. With information and research to back you up, it’s important to have conversations with family, friends and neighbors about your vaccination decisions and why you think its important.
  2. Start at home. Have a plan to protect your children from preventable infectious diseases through vaccination. With the main cause of under-vaccination being missed well-child visits, be sure to have a plan in place with your pediatrician. If in need of a family physician, Blue KC’s new offering, Spira Care, is an innovative take on primary care which can help you and your family stay healthy year-round, on your schedule. Ask your employer if Spira Care is available to you.

Still have questions? Visit to find a provider in your area.

*Study includes continuously insured members from birth.

**This includes influenza, but does not include deaths due to 2009 H1N1.