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By the Minnesota Council of Health Plans and the Minnesota Hospital Association

School’s back in session, and if you are like most parents, your kids are starting the year with full-time, in-person learning for the first time in what seems like forever.

As we continue to battle COVID-19, it’s become increasingly important for students to be caught up on vital immunizations. This includes vaccines that can protect them from COVID-19 if they’re 12 or older, as well as other immunizations that can guard kids of all ages against serious illnesses.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines in 2020, the highest number since 2009 and 3.7 million more than in 2019. Up to 17 million children likely did not receive a single vaccine last year, reports the WHO. Here in Minnesota, a June CDC report also showed significant drops in several vaccines for young children.

As a result, children and some adults are missing some of the most important and beneficial vaccines of our time, including the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine; the flu shot; vaccines for polio, chickenpox, and whooping cough; and the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, with Minnesota schools back in session and the COVID-19 Delta variant still a major threat, the race is on to make up for lost time.

Minnesota health care systems and nonprofit health plans are taking extensive and innovative measures to ensure that vaccinations are easier and more accessible for everyone as we continue to endure this pandemic. They are using every viable communications tool – from telephone to Twitter – to encourage families to get back on track with vaccinations.

  • Hennepin Health is launching intensive telephonic, text, email, and social media outreach to promote important adolescent vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccine. Then, the health plan is doing more outreach for children’s vaccinations and well-visits. Sometimes it’s even easier to bring the vaccine to members in their own communities. That’s when providers deploy the Hennepin Healthcare Vaccine Mobile van. The mobile service began in May 2020 to provide essential childhood vaccines to families who are hesitant and/or unable to be seen in health care facilities. The Vaccine Mobile team consists of a community paramedic and a nurse practitioner or pediatrician. The team provides vaccines and care in an effort to help maintain childhood immunization rates.
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota has also prioritized childhood immunizations. Partnerships with WellShare International and Hennepin Healthcare’s Vaccine Mobile van have been designed to target gaps in care, including childhood vaccinations, and serve as a bridge to reestablishing member relationships with a clinic for regular, ongoing care. Blue Cross also offers many helpful hints on childhood vaccinations as kids get back to school on the company’s blog.
  • At UCare, Engagement Specialists are calling families with kids 12-17 who have not been COVID vaccinated and are also behind on childhood immunizations. UCare is also offering a COVID-19 vaccine incentive starting Sept. 1 for Medicaid members. The incentive applies to Minnesota Health Care Program members age 12 and over enrolled in Families & Children (PMAP), MinnesotaCare, Minnesota Senior Health Options, Minnesota Senior Care Plus, and UCare Connect and UCare Connect + Medicare plans for individuals with disabilities who complete their COVID-19 vaccine series after Sept. 1. Finally, UCare is developing a series of videos for social media about back-to-school childhood immunizations.
  • Vaccination education is also well underway at Medica. The health plan is encouraging its members to find out more about the importance of getting timely vaccines. It is also offering web-based resources and links to the latest information about immunizations and how to access them to protect children’s long-term health.
  • HealthPartners is promoting childhood immunizations in a variety of ways. Its campaign includes personalized content for members who, based on data patterns, may be hesitant to get vaccinated or to receive care during the pandemic. HealthPartners is also participating with the American Cancer Society and other plans to work on improving adolescent immunization rates. The goal? To learn best practices and to increase the number of members who are fully vaccinated.

Many of these efforts started over the summer, but they take on even greater urgency now that students have returned to their classrooms. Catch-up strategies like these will help reduce the risk of an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. Also remember that health plans cover recommended immunizations without charging members a copayment or coinsurance when provided by an in-network provider.

So, if you haven’t done so, talk with your doctor about getting your kids up to date with their vaccinations. Staying healthy and protected against preventable illnesses will help ensure your student’s success this school year!