By the Minnesota Council of Health Plans and the Minnesota Hospital Association
As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, childhood vaccinations are of utmost importance. A spike in vaccine-preventable infections among youth, layered on top of the current pandemic, could have serious implications for all Minnesotans.
Recent vaccination trends are especially troubling when it comes to measles. In May, Minnesota health officials reported a 70% drop in MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations compared with a year ago, as more Minnesotans reduced participation in preventative care during the early stages of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic due to stay at home orders, health concerns, adjusting to social distancing guidelines and other factors.
But measles is a disease that we all need to take seriously, particularly as we commence back-to-school season, begin fall sports and start to do more activities indoors. Worldwide, measles kills more than 100,000 people a year, and 90% of people who come in contact with someone who has measles will contract it if they’re not vaccinated. The infection is spread through the air when those who have it breathe and cough; people have been known to contract the disease from walking into a room where infected people stood just two hours earlier.
It’s also important to note that there was a resurgence in measles cases long before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. In 2017, Minnesota experienced its worst measles outbreak since 1990, with almost a third of the patients who contracted the infection needing hospitalization. And just last year, the United States saw its highest number of measles cases in the past 25 years.
That’s why Minnesota’s hospitals, health systems, clinics and health plans are taking extensive and innovative measures to ensure that vaccinations are easier and more accessible for everyone as we endure this pandemic. They are spreading the word to families on the importance of the MMR vaccine and others (including vaccines for Whooping Cough, chickenpox, and HPV) in preventing further outbreaks and exacerbating the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19. Their efforts include:
- Changing the process of well-child visits to make parents feel even safer, such as designating given days for only well-child visits and placing families in rooms immediately after check-in to avoid contact with others.
- Using drive-through clinics to better reach patients who have concerns about entering a health care facility due to COVID-19.
- Launching various outreach programs on the importance of well-child exams and immunizations.
- Sending letters to parents showing them exactly which shots their kids are due to receive and encouraging them to schedule those vaccinations.
- Identifying key stakeholders within Minnesota’s Somali, East Asian and East African populations to share the importance of immunizations and answer questions.
- Engaging with county child and teen checkup programs across the state.
- Coordinating immunization messaging and outreach activities with counties and health care systems throughout the state.
With COVID-19 continuing to spread throughout Minnesota and impacting everything we do, we want to reduce the risk of other vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. Accessing preventive care – including vaccinations – can help keep you, your family and your community healthy. Talk to your doctor about the MMR vaccine and whether your kids are up to date on their immunizations. You can also get more information on measles and the MMR vaccine here or on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Your vigilance on this matter will ultimately help our state avert another serious public health crisis.