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Fear + Worry = Fewer Kids Getting Vaccinated

After years of steady progress, the percentage of 2 year olds in private health plans being immunized dropped last year, according to a report released today by an industry watchdog group.

The study by the National Committee on Quality Assurance,  which measures how well health plans ensure that members receive appropriate care, found a “disturbing” drop in the rates of vaccination:

–Measles, mumps and rubella: fell to 90.6 percent in 2009 from 93.5 percent in 2008.
–Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough fell to 85.4 percent last year from 87.2 percent in 2008.
–The chickenpox slipped to 90.6 percent in 2009 from 92 percent in 2008.

Health plan officials attributed the decline to parents’ fears that vaccinations could be linked to autism. Though public health experts and government studies have found no evidence that vaccinations cause autism, the subject has been subject of fierce debate on the Internet and outspoken celebrities have fueled the controversy.

“Vaccination paranoia is out there,” said George Halvorson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, of the nation’s largest health plans. But he also said it is unclear if the one year drop signals a trend.

“Parents are putting children in danger due to misinformation,” said Margaret O’Kane, NCQA president.

Dr. Roberta Herman, chief medical officer for Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, a health plan based in Wellesley, Mass., said her company has seen the falloff in vaccination. “Parents feel overwhelmed at the current schedule of immunizations,” she said. As a result, some parents may be delaying some shots.

The study, which examined quality data from more than 1,000 health plans that cover a total of 118 million Americans, found that vaccination rates increased in children who were in Medicaid health plans. Medicaid is the state-federal program that covers low-income Americans. Despite the increase, vaccination rates last year were still mostly higher among children in private health plans than Medicaid (for the diphtheria tetanus pertussis, the vaccination rate was about 80% for Medicaid and 85% for private plans).

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