Blue Cross: South Carolina excels in nation in child vaccinations

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More South Carolina children insured by BlueCross BlueShield were vaccinated between 2010 and 2016 than the national average, amid a growing number of parents nationwide who are refusing vaccinations for their babies.

Childhood vaccination rates in South Carolina were 77.8 percent among young commercially insured members of the agency in those years, according to a new study of medical claims the agency recently released.

Nationally, 73.5 percent were up to date on their CDC-recommended vaccinations during the seven-year span.

"The good news is South Carolina exceeded the national average," said Matthew Bartels, a pediatrician and the chief medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. "We don't know exactly why, but we speculate it has to do with increased awareness and provided access, and my own bias is I think that people are more informed now and realize that vaccinations are safe and effective."

The "single biggest factor" for children being under-vaccinated is missed well-child visits, Bartels said.

Those missed visits, which could be due to a lack of access, he said, account for 62 percent of under-vaccinated cases for children born in 2013.

"There is a small sub-set of parents who choose not to, but, thankfully, that percentage is low in South Carolina," Bartels said.

In South Carolina, parents cannot claim a personal exemption from vaccinating their children to send them to public school. The only exemptions allowed are medical and religious.

While much of the study shows rates are overall improving, it also found more parents are refusing vaccinations.

In South Carolina, 1.2 percent of medical claims the insurance company analyzed were coded with a parental vaccine refusal from 2010 through 2016, compared to 3.3 nationally.

Refusal rates climbed nationally from 2.5 percent for children born in 2010 to 4.2 percent for children born in 2013.

Vaccination rates are higher in South Carolina's largest metropolitan statistical areas, with Greenville being at 81.8 percent, Charleston at 80.7 percent and Columbia at 78.5 percent.