Report: The high cost of vaccine-preventable diseases in Colorado

Report found $35 million spent in hospital charges

AURORA, Colo. -- There is a high price to not getting children vaccinated.

A new report states that 472 Colorado children were hospitalized with vaccine-preventable diseases in 2015, resulting in $35 million in hospital and emergency department charges.

The report, released Friday by the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (CCIC) and Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado), also finds that in 17 Colorado counties less than 50 percent of children are up to date on routine immunizations – well below the coverage level necessary to prevent the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases.

(Courtesy: The Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Report, 2016)

"I think one of the most impactful things we found was just how much money these vaccine-preventable diseases are costing people across our state," said Dr. Jessica Cataldi, a report author and Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado. "It's $35 million. That is a lot of money, and so, that’s costing parents, taxpayers and insurance companies and employers for hospital stays and emergency visits for these diseases."

Actual costs, Cataldi said -- including costs of office visits, medication, lost wages and decreased productivity -- are much higher, and she said based on the data, it's safe to say many of the children hospitalized had never been vaccinated.

(Courtesy: The Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Report, 2016)

Already this year, Colorado has seen an outbreak of the mumps, which doctors point to as an example of the consequences of low vaccination rates.

According to the report, Colorado’s overall vaccination rate improved in 2015 following consecutive low rates in the last five years, however, 24.6 percent of children were missing one or more routine vaccines in 2015. 

"There are some rural areas in Colorado where it may be difficult to get vaccines," said Cataldi, who added some urban areas also have low rates of vaccination, in part, because of personal belief exemptions. "The highest exemption rates we’ve seen from schools are in the Boulder area, as well as some schools around Colorado Springs. So, that’s something that we have concerns about and think needs to be looked into further."

Some public health experts have expressed concern the President Donald Trump's seeming support of anti-vaccination advocates has re-energized a dangerous movement.

“Vaccines are a safe and effective tool for preventing dangerous diseases,” said Dr. Edwin Asturias, report author and associate director for the Center for Global Health at the Colorado School of Public Health.  

“Vaccination is not just a personal choice. Pockets of underimmunized children can lead to outbreaks, which affect the whole community and place others at risk, including vulnerable children with asthma, cancer or other high-risk health conditions,” added Dr. James Todd, report author and director of epidemiology at Children’s Colorado.

The report states that influenza (flu) alone accounted for 369 hospitalizations and 4,045 ED visits among Colorado children in 2015, resulting in more than $25 million in charges. 

The second most common vaccine-preventable disease to lead to hospitalization or ED visits was pneumococcal disease, which can cause infections leading to pneumonia and meningitis.

The report provides an analysis of the state of health of Colorado’s children based on the most recent National Immunization Survey, Colorado Hospital Association inpatient and emergency department data and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data. 

Access the full Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in Colorado’s Children Report at www.childrensimmunization.org.

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