Child Health

The Importance of Immunization for Back to School in Ohio

September 29, 2023 | Ohio

The Importance of Immunization for Back to School in Ohio

By Kelly Vyzral, Senior Health Policy Associate | September 29, 2023

It’s back-to-school season in Ohio and parents are busy making sure their children are prepared for a successful school year. One of the most important things parents can do to prepare their children for success is to make sure they are up to date on their immunizations. Vaccines are one of the best ways to protect children from preventable diseases.

Unfortunately, in Ohio, the number of unvaccinated children is increasing. The CDC estimates that the rate of Ohio kindergartners with childhood vaccine exemptions has doubled over the last decade, from 1.5% to 3%. While all Ohio children are required to get certain vaccinations before attending school, exemptions are permitted for medical reasons as well as religious or moral objections.

Immunizations are important for back to school because schools are places where children are in close contact with each other. This makes it easy for diseases to spread. When children are vaccinated, they are less likely to get sick and spread diseases to others. Last year, Ohio experienced the country’s largest outbreak of measles when 85 children became infected, 36 of them ending up in the hospital.

The Medicaid unwind is the process of transitioning from pandemic-related automatic enrollment to annual renewal for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries. In Ohio, this means families will need to renew coverage for any child over the age of three each year, rather than having it automatically renewed as it has been since March of 2020.

The Medicaid unwind could affect back to school immunizations for children in several ways.

First, some children will lose their Medicaid coverage altogether. This could make it more difficult for these children to get the vaccines they need, because their parents may not be able to afford them out of pocket.

Second, the Medicaid unwind could make it more difficult for families to keep track of their children’s immunization records. This could lead to some children not getting the vaccines they need because their families are not aware that they need them.

Third, the Medicaid unwind could make it more difficult for children to get vaccinated at school. This is because schools may not be able to afford to provide vaccines to children who are not enrolled in Medicaid.

Here are some things families can do to protect their children’s back to school immunizations during the Medicaid unwind:

  • Make sure your child is up to date on their immunizations before the start of the school year.
  • Contact Ohio Medicaid agency to learn more about the Medicaid unwind and how it may affect your family.
  • Keep track of your child’s immunization record and make sure you have a copy of it on hand when you go to the doctor or school.
  • Talk to your child’s school about their immunization policy and how you can help your child get vaccinated if they are not enrolled in Medicaid.

Here are some things that states and communities can do to mitigate the negative effects of the Medicaid unwind on back-to-school immunizations:

  • Provide outreach and education to families about the Medicaid unwind and how it may affect their children’s coverage.
  • Help families keep track of their children’s immunization records by improving use of the state’s vaccine registry.
  • Work with schools to ensure that all children have access to vaccines, regardless of their insurance status.

Over 61,000 Ohio children have already lost their Medicaid coverage since the Medicaid unwind began in April. Ohio Medicaid doesn’t currently disaggregate their data by child versus adult, so although we can look at the Medicaid Dashboard and see that over 61,000 fewer children are being covered by Medicaid, we don’t know the reason. If the data were disaggregated, it would include a code that would tell us if it was due to a parent obtaining employer insurance, Marketplace coverage, or if they were disenrolled for a procedural or administrative error like incomplete paperwork or returned mail. The State has told us they are working on disaggregating the data and should have some numbers to us by early October.

We call on Ohio Medicaid to put a hold on any further disenrollment of children until they have an opportunity to look at the disaggregated data and can be sure children are not inappropriately losing their Medicaid coverage.

By taking these steps, families, states, and communities can help ensure that all children are protected from preventable diseases and can get the vaccines they need to stay healthy.