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Regional Program Helps Boost Childhood Vaccinations

By Manny Otiko | IVN

An innovative program offered by First 5 LA has helped keep vaccination rates up for babies and children of new mothers in Los Angeles County.

According to the independent public agency, more than 90% of mothers in Los Angeles County who are enrolled in First 5 LA’s Welcome Baby Home Visiting Program have babies and young children who are up to date on their childhood immunizations.

The program is supported by a $420,000 community investment from Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan. This is the first time the agency has collaborated with a major health plan to engage managed health care in proven home visitation prevention efforts for families, according to a Blue Shield Promise. 

Childhood vaccinations were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, when the entire nation, including medical facilities, was shut down. This is supported by a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics. 

“As of September 2020, childhood vaccination rates and the proportion who were UTD (up -to-date) remained lower than 2019 levels. Interventions are needed to promote catch-up vaccination, particularly in populations at risk for under immunization,” said the study.

However, immunization rates for the children enrolled in First 5 LA’s home visitation programs remained steady. First 5 LA adapted to the pandemic environment by continuing to support its enrolled families by making virtual home visits with its health educators.

“During Covid, (vaccination) rates went down, but First 5 LA kept them up for children of families it serves,” said Dr. Kim Bower, medical director, Maternal and Infant Programs, Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan. 

Dr. Bower said making sure young people start their life with the right vaccinations is essential to a healthy beginning.

“We need to make sure they start healthy and develop healthy habits,” she said. “When a child gets vaccinated, they get a healthy start to life.”

“Home visitation programs provide early prevention and intervention services and have a proven record on delivering robust and positive outcomes for young children and families,” said Diana Careaga, director of Family Supports at First 5 LA. “Our innovative collaboration with Blue Shield Promise Health Plan will bring great benefits, not only to the health plan in supporting the wellness goals of its members, but to the families who are linked to these services.” 

The program vaccinates against diseases such as polio, tetanus, the flu, and hepatitis B.

However, according to Dr. Bower, because of the anti-vaccination movement, America has seen an increase in diseases that were previously considered dead or almost extinct.

Dr. Bower said that measles is becoming more common in low-vaccination communities. The disease can cause brain damage and can be fatal. She added that the public has forgotten how deadly many of these early childhood diseases can be. For example, polio can lead to paralysis, mumps can lead to hearing loss and rubella can cause birth defects.

“All of the diseases have a long-term impact,” said Bower.

Inland Valley News coverage of local news in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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