More than three-quarters of South Carolina children insured by BlueCross BlueShield received their recommended vaccines for measles, mumps, hepatitis B and other infectious diseases between 2010 and 2016, even as a growing number of parents refuse to vaccinate their children, a new national report shows.
In this state, 77.8 percent of these children were appropriately vaccinated, compared to 73.5 percent nationally.
More than half of children who did not receive all their vaccines had missed a "well-child visit" with a pediatrician.
While the report demonstrates that vaccination rates are generally improving, the numbers also reveal that more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children.
In this state, only 1.2 percent of insurance claims between 2010 and 2016 show that parents refused to vaccinate their children in accordance with the schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's considerably lower than the national average — 3.3 percent.
Across the country, this refusal rate grew from 2.5 percent for children born in 2010, to 4.2 percent for children born in 2013.
"What happened many years ago there was some misinformation that was being disseminated about vaccines and safety," said Dr. Matthew Bartels, a pediatrician and the chief medical officer at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. "Those claims have been largely disproven."
"The Health of America" report, published Thursday by the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, only measured vaccinations rates among children who were insured commercially through a Blue Cross plan and were born between 2010 and 2013. The report's authors analyzed claims data for these children until they turned 3. Children covered by Medicaid or by another private insurer, and children who had no insurance, were not counted.
Numbers in the report show that vaccination rates climbed during this period, both in South Carolina and in the U.S.
In South Carolina, 80 percent of BlueCross BlueShield members born in 2013 were fully vaccinated by the age of 2 years and 3 months, up from 75 percent among children born in 2010.
Nationally, the rate increased from 69 percent to 77 percent.
"It shows that South Carolina providers and families are really committed to protecting the younger populations through vaccination," Bartels said. "Right now, we’re just really pleased."
Bartels and other public health experts agree that vaccines do not cause autism. Still, the myth persists.
In South Carolina, too, vaccination regulations are relatively strict compared to other states.
Parents who want to send their children to public school in this state are not allowed to claim "personal exemptions" to skirt the school vaccine requirements. That's why vaccination rates in South Carolina generally run higher than the national average.
Even with such stringent rules, though, numbers provided by the state health department last year show parents are increasingly claiming religious exemptions — which are permitted in South Carolina — to bypass vaccine guidelines.
The Post and Courier reported in September these religious exemptions rose 70 percent between 2013 and 2017, from 4,761 exemptions on record during the 2013-2014 school year to 8,074 exemptions during 2016-2017.
To claim a religious exemption in South Carolina, parents are only required to fill out a form from their local health department and have it notarized. They are not asked questions about their religious beliefs.
While vaccine refusal rates vary by state, The Health of America report found refusal rates were generally higher "in the Northeast — particularly the New York City area — and in the Pacific Northwest, while lower rates are found in the South and Midwest."
For more information about the CDC's recommended vaccine schedule, go to cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules.