Concern is high for the West Nile virus, but there is no vaccine. Concern should be equally high for the looming whooping cough epidemic and seasonal flu. The good news is that there are vaccinations for both. The bad news is that the flu season is supposed to start early and cost more to treat this year. And while immunizations may now be covered at no additional cost, millions of Texans will not get vaccinated. Why not?
When parents bring their kids to get back-to-school immunizations, they should also ask about getting immunized themselves. Immunities can fade over time and adults are actually 100 times more likely than children to die of diseases that vaccines can prevent. While the whooping cough, or pertussis, is usually not fatal for adults, grown-ups are the number one carrier for the disease which can kill children. Texas has already seen 895 cases this year – twice as many as this time last year.
In addition to health concerns, vaccine-preventable diseases are also costly for the economy. About 12 percent of the workforce loses an average of 14 hours of work as a result of the flu each year. And our claims data indicates that the average out-of-pocket cost of treating flu symptoms in Texas is growing – $83 in 2011 compared to $78 the year before. In fact, if all our members who got the flu last year had been immunized instead, they could have helped control rising health care costs by saving nearly $38,000,000.
Other vaccines adults may need include those that protect against measles, mumps, rubella, shingles, pneumonia, HPV as well as hepatitis A and B.
Obviously, immunizations are top of mind in our world these days so we have begun a social media and marketing campaign to spread the word. In addition, we’re making a commitment to immunize approximately 27,000 uninsured and underinsured Texas children by the end of 2012. This renewed pledge during National Immunization Month further strengthens our commitment to the Healthy Kids, Healthy Families program – a three-year initiative that pulls together local, state and national resources in an effort to make a significant impact on childhood health and wellness.
My goal in writing this letter is not to brag about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. We’ve been a contributing member this community for seven decades. My goal today is to ask for your help. Spread the word. Ask your neighbors if they’ve talked to their doctor about vaccinations – both for the kids and adults. Use the facts and tips below as conversation starters. Ask them if they have called their insurer to find out if immunizations are covered at no additional cost. We’re Texans and we take care of our own.
· Every year, more than 50,000 adult deaths per year are attributed to vaccine preventable diseases in the U.S. In addition, the cost of hospitalization due to vaccine-preventable diseases is more than $30 billion each year according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, CMS and HHS.
· If you don’t know what shots you were administered as a child, be sure to discuss this with your doctor during your next visit. It may be necessary to repeat some of the vaccines or arrange blood tests to determine your immunity.
· If you plan to travel outside of the country, make an appointment with your physician at least 6 weeks in advance to review and receive recommended vaccinations.
· Caregivers for the elderly and children should be especially vigilant about getting their vaccinations.
· Keep a current copy of immunization records for the entire family at home and take it along to doctor’s visits to keep it current.
· The flu costs nearly $21,000 for each of BCBSTX’s members who had to be admitted into a hospital in 2011. (Although that number is high, it’s still less than the average cost for patients who don’t have the benefit of negotiated rates from health insurers.)
· According to the CDC, about 200,000 Americans are hospitalized and 36,000 die each year from complications of the flu.
· The flu shot cannot give you the flu.
· People with lower immunities may not respond as well to the vaccination, but it can prevent the flu in as much as 66 percent of young children and 70 percent of the elderly.
· There are many options available to receive a flu shot. Amongst the best places to get a flu shot is with your in-network primary care physician. While coverage may vary, other options include government department offices, retail pharmacies, retail health clinics, workplaces and schools.
-Dr. Eduardo Sanchez is vice president and chief medical officer for Texas' largest health insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX)