The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the immeasurable value of both personal and community immunity from vaccine-preventable diseases. Barriers to vaccination – particularly cost – take away the incentive for choosing the very course of action we need to protect the collective immunity we worked so hard to create against other diseases. As we race against variants to lower any and all barriers to the COVID-19 vaccine, we must maintain the foundation of immunity for diseases that were the COVID-19 of their day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, routine childhood vaccinations have dropped dramatically, in some cases up to a 60 percent decrease. Equally as alarming, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases has found immunization rates for adults age 65 and older have fallen significantly since the pandemic. Delays in care because of the pandemic were understandable, but we must move quickly to catch up our low vaccination rates that threaten community immunity. The cause and effect is strikingly clear: Outbreaks happen when rates of immunization to communicable diseases fall. As we all dream of a return to normal school, work and play, I fear that outbreaks of these once-controlled diseases may shatter our dream.

For adults, one major barrier to vaccine is cost. All children under the age of 19 in Maine can be vaccinated at little or no cost to their families under the Universal Childhood Immunization Program. Similarly, through the CARES Act Congress eliminated the cost to Americans for COVID-19 vaccines. However, Medicare, the coverage plan for 62 million older Americans and nearly 350,000 Maine residents, must be modernized as well to meet the challenge of falling immunization rates in older Americans.

A new federal bill – Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act – specifically eliminates out-of-pocket costs for vaccines covered under Medicare Part D aligning it with Medicare Part B coverage. The bill also provides resources for vaccine awareness and education about adult vaccines. Lastly, and importantly, the bill would authorize research to determine ways to increase adult immunizations by reducing racial and socioeconomic disparities; make the process easier for medical staff to administer vaccines; close gaps in adult immunization performance measurement, and strengthen immunization information systems.

We often forget that adults too need to be immunized against certain diseases like pertussis, shingles and pneumonia. Sadly, the pandemic has reminded us that seniors (and minorities) are at the greatest risk of COVID-19, as are those who have pneumonia, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – conditions that disproportionally affect seniors and minorities.

I urge our U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, and Rep. Chellie Pingree to support bills such as Protecting Seniors Through Immunization, to lower financial barriers that hinder those on Medicare from getting vaccinated. The loss of 50,000 adults each year to vaccine-preventable diseases is not inevitable, and equally preventable is the illness of the millions who recover, but suffering debilitating consequences of these diseases. This bill is our shot at improving the health of older Americans and the communities in which they live.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.