Despite the health benefits of immunizing pregnant women against influenza and pertussis (whooping cough) and protecting them and their infants from these life-threatening diseases, only half of pregnant women are vaccinated against both diseases and only one-third receive both the influenza and pertussis vaccines during pregnancy.
Three states are trying a number of innovative approaches to increase vaccination rates among pregnant women by providing incentives to health plans, increasing access to vaccinations through pharmacies, and using data to identify and target populations, regions, and providers with substandard influenza and Tdap (which protects against pertussis) vaccination rates.
Evidence shows pregnant women are at increased risk of developing complications from certain preventable diseases and can also risk passing those diseases on to their children. Following immunization, data shows that both mothers and infants are less likely to be hospitalized from complications. When a woman is vaccinated during pregnancy, she develops antibodies that are transmitted to her child before birth, which can then protect the infant during the first few months after birth. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant get the flu vaccine and the Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy.
Low Immunization Rates Persist
Despite the CDC’s guidelines, many women do not receive the influenza and pertussis vaccines during pregnancy. According to the CDC’s recent report, Vital Signs: Burden and Prevention of Influenza and Pertussis Among Pregnant Women and Infants — United States, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), current rates of maternal immunization for influenza and Tdap are 53.7 percent and 54.9 percent, respectively. Only one-third of pregnant women received both the influenza and Tdap vaccines, and the rates are even lower for African-American pregnant women. The report noted that provider recommendations to patients can improve maternal immunization rates – when providers offered vaccinations or provided a referral to pregnant women, 65.7 and 70.5 percent received the flu and Tdap vaccine, respectively. Based on this data, the CDC recommends that providers begin discussing vaccinations with pregnant patients early and continue the conversation during each visit.
Overall, women enrolled in public insurance programs were less likely to be vaccinated during pregnancy than women with private insurance, due in part to access barriers. State Medicaid agencies, which cover 43 percent of all births across the United States and up to 60 percent of births in some states, can use innovative approaches to identify pregnant women in need of vaccinations, gather data to identify strategies and targeted approaches, and encourage providers to increase vaccination rates to improve health and save on costs.
The 2019 MMWR data are especially notable in light of the Healthy People 2020 goal to increase the number of pregnant women vaccinated against influenza to 80 percent. While most states remain far from that goal, California, Colorado, and Wisconsin are working to improve maternal vaccination rates for both their Medicaid populations and privately insured women.
California’s Medi-Cal Strategies
In California, pregnant women covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid plan, see providers who are less likely to stock or recommend the Tdap vaccine. Women on Medi-Cal receive prenatal Tdap immunizations at much lower rates than privately insured women, and infants born to mothers with Medi-Cal coverage are twice as likely to contract pertussis compared to privately insured infants. California is using a number of strategies to improve maternal immunization rates for women on Medi-Cal, including setting expectations for contracted health plans, monitoring and providing incentives, and addressing barriers at the clinician and patient level:
- Medi-Cal managed care contracts require health plans to ensure the timely provision of all Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)-recommended immunizations for members, and report data to the California Immunization Registry (CAIR). Medi-Cal managed care contracts also require that contracted health plans monitor their primary care provider sites for the provision of preventive services, including all ACIP-recommended immunizations for adults and children.
- California’s 2019-2020 budget includes funding for incentive payments in the managed care delivery system for timely prenatal care as well as for prenatal providers who administer the Tdap vaccine to pregnant members. Some of California’s Medi-Cal managed care health plans are also trying to lower the financial barriers to providing vaccines by allowing providers to directly bill the health plan outside of capitation rates, providing free Tdap starter doses to clinics, and encouraging group purchasing of vaccines.
- Medi-Cal encourages its health plans to follow up on potential quality of care issues when cases of pertussis in infants born to unvaccinated mothers are identified through public health department notification.
- California pharmacists are authorized to provide immunizations without a physician’s order. Most major chain pharmacies in California offer Tdap immunizations as part of their vaccine portfolio. All routinely recommended adult vaccines are covered by Medicaid without prior authorization (in both fee-for-service and managed care plans) when given in a provider’s office or in a pharmacy. Recent state regulations require pharmacists to notify providers of immunizations administered and to enter all doses into the California Immunization Registry, making it possible for providers to know whether vaccine referrals to pharmacies are successful.
Colorado and Wisconsin’s Use of Data
One of the challenges to improving maternal immunization rates is obtaining and monitoring data, especially as many states do not require providers to report immunizations to their Immunization Information Systems (IIS). Quality data, though, is needed by states working to tailor their strategies for improving immunization uptake to the areas of highest need and to monitor trends. Specifically, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services identifies data linking of Medicaid eligibity and claims data with vital statistics data as a critical mechanism for surveillance, programmatic monitoring, and evaluation of maternal immunization.
- Colorado is using data matching to determine the rates of maternal immunization in each county. Colorado has successfully matched 96 percent of patient medical record numbers with Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS) records. The CIIS data matching has allowed the state to map immunization rates by provider and region and identify gaps in maternal immunization uptake. Colorado is now using this data to determine the areas of highest need in the state to inform and guide outreach programs. Currently, Colorado is also piloting text and email reminders to encourage patients to get vaccinated.
- Wisconsin is also using data matching to obtain baseline immunization rates. Wisconsin matched 96 percent of women who gave birth in 2018, as recorded by the Vital Records Office, with data from the Wisconsin Immunization Registry. Like Colorado, Wisconsin used this data to create data maps to identify influenza and Tdap vaccination levels in each region of the state. Wisconsin was also able to track vaccination rates by age, race, type of insurance, and quality of prenatal care. Next steps for the state include monitoring these trends, identifying areas of highest need, and using the data to improve maternal immunization rates.
In addition to partnering with state public health departments and their immunization programs, state Medicaid agencies can partner with providers to ensure vaccines are stocked and to promote vaccine recommendations for pregnant women so they become routine. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has released a number of resources designed to support health care providers in increasing maternal vaccination rates, including the Maternal Immunization Tool Kit, strategies for immunization implementation, and a guide to starting an office-based immunization program. The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers recommendations on cost-saving measures for the purchase and administration of immunizations. Finally, the CDC has compiled a toolkit for prenatal care providers that includes resources for provider and patient vaccination education.
In addition to these resources, other states can learn from the work California, Colorado, and Wisconsin have done to identify gaps and improve vaccination rates among pregnant women covered by state Medicaid programs.
The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) would like to thank Abby Klemp at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Sarah Royce at the California Department of Public Health, and Karen Mark at the California Department of Health Care Services for their time and insight. NASHP would also like to thank the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their assistance with this blog and for funding this project.