Vaccine Mandate Concerns Doctors

July 5, 2012

As you may remember, I recently wrote a column about the legislature coming back together for a one-day special session focused on implementing the state budget. During these few hours, hundreds of additional concepts were also included in the legislation. Many of these provisions were bills that did not pass in the regular session that ended in May. One such provision was especially concerning to many doctors and other healthcare professionals who provide children with immunizations.

In the days leading up to the special session, I received numerous emails from concerned pediatricians and also came across several newspaper articles detailing their point of view. One doctor shared concerns that children would not be able to obtain all of the recommended vaccines because the state can provide only portions of the amount that would be needed.

This is an unfortunate example of what happens when the General Assembly attempts to pass legislation without holding a public hearing to gather public input. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, these bills were passed by emergency certification, meaning that there would be no chance for members of the public, including doctors, to voice their thoughts on certain proposals.

Specifically, Public Act 12-1 builds upon prior legislation that created a pilot program for health care providers who give vaccines to children under the federal Vaccines For Children (VFC) program. They must choose the vaccine and the state Department of Public Health (DPH) provides them with it. The DPH commissioner must also evaluate this program and expand the process to all VFC providers if there is not a significant reduction in immunization rates. The part that concerns many pediatricians is a new requirement that all health care providers who administer vaccines to children must receive their vaccines solely from the DPH by January 1, 2013.

Currently, vaccines are provided to children through three methods. Many children are immunized by pediatricians who purchase vaccines in the marketplace. Insurance companies reimburse these costs. Children who are uninsured or underinsured or are covered by Medicaid can receive free vaccines through the federal VFC program. In addition, our state also has a program funded by insurance suppliers to provide additional vaccines to children.

Last year, the Childhood Immunization Task Force was established during the 2011 legislative session and was tasked with considering whether our state should continue universal childhood immunizations. It was also required to develop a plan to maintain children’s access to quality immunizations, determine how to respond to new federal recommendations for immunizations not currently provided by the DPH, allow doctors to select vaccines and have the DPH provide them, and determine how best to cover these associated costs.

According to the task force’s report, there must be further study of the vaccine mandate. It states that “given the complexity of the issues the task force addressed, as well as the importance of achieving the highest possible rate of childhood immunization in a cost-effective manner, a successor task force or similar body should continue to evaluate and monitor” several issues, including “the conditions and implications of requiring mandatory provider participation in the state childhood immunization program.”

Despite this call for an additional study, the legislature decided to move forward with the vaccine mandate, effectively stripping doctors of the power to choose where they obtain their vaccines. Immunizations are important methods of protecting the health and wellbeing of our children. We simply must make sure that doctors are included in this dialogue, and I believe that we should have continued to study this complicated issue before voting on legislation that could negatively impact childhood immunizations.