Promoting the use of and access to vaccines has been my life’s work, but even for someone who spends each day thinking about how vaccinations can save lives, the past year has been like nothing else.
Never in my 26-year career with Vaccinate Your Family have I seen such attention and praise on the value that vaccines bring to our health, our economy and the good of society as a whole. For those of us who work in public health, the great hope is that this opportunity in time will not be squandered, but rather looked back upon as a time we as a country put public health first and worked across the spectrum to increase access to vaccinations.
To that end, the recently released National Vaccine Plan 2021-2025 is a positive step in this direction with the goal of achieving higher vaccination rates across all age groups.
Even before the pandemic struck, vaccination rates for a number of preventable diseases were below the herd immunity threshold. That crack in our public health system only deepened throughout the pandemic, with doctor offices limiting visitors, and people hesitating to go to a medical facility for preventative care —which included vaccines.
Now that the country is getting closer to a majority of those qualified to be vaccinated against COVID, it’s time to focus on getting up to date on other vaccines. This is important for people of all ages. However, older Americans are more at risk for neglecting to get routine vaccinations, simply because they don’t have the added reminder and pressures like kids do in order to attend school or play sports to prompt vaccination uptake. Simply put, it’s easier for adults to put it off —which is why it’s critical we do all we can to change that.
Eliminating financial and other barriers to care is one way to achieve greater immunity for older Americans.
For seniors, first dollar coverage is critical in getting necessary vaccines. Without it, we can expect more adults to be required to pay out-of-pocket expenses for vaccines. Expanding first dollar coverage of vaccines to Medicare Part D and encouraging Medicare Advantage and stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug Plans to include immunizations in the zero-cost sharing tier is also critical to reducing the barriers to access for all adults. Influenza and pneumococcal vaccines, which are both covered by Part B, have been received by 71.5% and 61.3% of seniors over the age of 65, respectively. This same population must spend between $14 and $102, on average to receive either the shingles or the Tdap vaccine. These two vaccines that protect against four diseases have only been received by 27.9% and 14% of seniors, respectively. The cost savings of vaccinating all adults for our economy, coupled with increased workplace productivity, are well worth the investment.
By eliminating the cost sharing for adult vaccines in Medicare Part D, there are other advantages, including promoting vaccine confidence and reducing disparities among Part D participants. By eliminating co-pays for all, there will be no question of out-of-pocket costs and one less reason for older adults to hesitate to get vaccinated.
With that reduced hesitation, vaccine confidence will follow. As more people get vaccinated against diseases like shingles and pneumococcal disease, more and more older adults will see this as the norm, not the exception. Not only will that lead to a healthier population but will reduce other cost burdens on the overall healthcare system, keeping patients out of hospitals and emergency rooms— eliminating both a financial, but more importantly unnecessary threats to the health of this population.