ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pediatricians in New Mexico are being forced to turn away patients seeking vaccinations because they’ve run out of supplies provided through the state Department of Health and paid for by private insurance companies.
Albuquerque mom Allison Reynolds took her son for his one-year wellness checkup and vaccinations this week, but her pediatrician told her she was unable to give the shots for hepatitis A and the highly infectious chickenpox, also known as varicella.
Reynolds’s son has health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, and legislation passed last year was supposed to provide funding to cover the purchase and distribution of vaccines for privately insured children – about 20 percent of New Mexico kids, according to a Legislative Finance Committee analysis.
The money was supposed to come from insurance companies that are required to reimburse the Health Department for the cost of the vaccines provided for children they insure. Funding for children covered through federal programs such as Medicaid comes from the federal government.
The requirements took effect Aug. 28, and the Department of Health had billed insurers for about $10 million in vaccine costs by Dec. 31 but had received only $7.2 million, said DOH spokesman Kenny Vigil.
Vigil provided a statement saying the agency is doing everything it can to ensure providers statewide have the vaccines they need to immunize children.
“A number of large orders for vaccines have recently been placed by the Department of Health, and we expect supply for providers to improve soon,” the statement said.
However, it warned that there is “up to a month delay” between starting an order and shipping the product.
Reynolds is worried that if her son isn’t vaccinated he may be at risk of infection at the day care center he attends. New Mexico requires children attending state-funded preschools or child care centers to have the vaccinations by 15 months.
“I wonder how many other 1-year-olds are unvaccinated,” Reynolds said.
The situation has doctors worried as well. Melissa Mason, a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates in Albuquerque, said her office has been experiencing vaccine shortages for three to four weeks and she’s frustrated at not being able to immunize patients.
“It’s scary as well. Vaccines save lives, period,” Mason said Thursday.
If the shortage persists, Dr. Lance Chilton, a retired Albuquerque pediatrician who proposed the legislative measure, says it could mean children are susceptible to the diseases and could transmit them.
“We’re really very worried about it,” Chilton said Thursday.
Before the legislation passed last year, the Department of Health purchased vaccine for all New Mexico children and distributed it at no cost to medical providers statewide under the Universal Vaccine Purchase Program. The federal government reimburses the state for the cost of vaccinating uninsured and Medicaid patients. The remainder of the cost came from insurers who voluntarily agreed to reimburse the state, but there had been a $2.5 million shortfall, according to the LFC.