Flu Vaccine Mandates Work to Boost Immunization Rates
Mar 26, 2014

There is plenty of evidence that demonstrates the value of vaccines – from reducing hospitalizations and deaths to saving money.  And it’s frightening to imagine what would happen if we stopped vaccinating.

Vaccine_benefit-cost_ratio_-_3Yet, we are often reluctant to mandate vaccines. Instead, we prefer that people decide for themselves how best to ensure their good health. But we can’t ignore the data that proves vaccine mandates are an effective tool in boosting immunization rates.

Take for instance a mandate created in September 2010, in which Connecticut became the second state in the U.S. that requires children, age six months to six years, to receive an annual influenza vaccine in order to attend a state-licensed childcare program. According to a study conducted at the Yale School of Public Heath, Connecticut’s vaccination rate for children aged six months to six years increased significantly after the mandate, spiking from 67.8% during the 2009–2010 influenza season to 84.1% during the 2012–2013 flu season.   And better yet, the number of children hospitalized for the flu plummeted.  In fact, compared to nine other states without mandates, Connecticut saw the largest percentage decrease in the influenza-associated hospitalization rate among children aged four years and younger.

MNchildrens_infographic_fluAnd there have been indirect societal benefits as well.  James Hadler, lead study author and clinical professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine explains that hospitalization rates for the entire community likely decreased as well. He goes on to say that although the mandate applied only to young children, other studies have demonstrated that protecting a subset of the population decreases circulation of the virus more generally. Which translates to this simple concept: less disease circulating means vaccination is impacting a larger population than can even include those who haven’t been vaccinated.

While vaccine mandates of any kind are bound to face public resistance, it’s important to acknowledge the benefits of the action that has been taken.

“Our study demonstrated the feasibility [of making] day care centers safer,” Hadler said. “We hope that other states will consider that [mandated vaccinations for day-care attending children] is something that can and should be done. Connecticut and New Jersey have broken the ice on this issue and hopefully others will follow.”

Coverage of this report in the Yale Daily News explained that while some people may be concerned that an annual vaccine mandate could be a financial burden to the uninsured, the CDC’s Vaccines for Children program can cover the cost of immunizations for those in need.  Additionally, a CDC report from March of last year  indicated that out of the 105 pediatric deaths that occurred in the 2012-2013 season, 90% had not been vaccinated.

If mandating influenza vaccines for one of our most vulnerable populations can save lives and prevent hospitalizations than it’s obvious to see why Connecticut and New Jersey have taken these important steps to ensure high vaccination rates.  And as the infographic above demonstrates, public health departments all across the country (as seen in this image from MN) are interested in boosting influenza immunization rates and preventing dangerous flu infections among the youngest population.  But since the mandate currently only applies to state-licensed childcare programs in two states, we are curious to hear from you.

If you were choosing to send your child to a state-licensed child care in your state, would you consider influenza vaccine mandates like those in CT and NJ to be a welcomed change or an unwarranted imposition?

 


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