Arlington Heights cancels February vaccine clinic

Updated 2/11/2013 11:11 PM

A change in federal funding is forcing Arlington Heights to cancel its monthly immunization clinic for February and put the whole program -- which served more than 800 underinsured and uninsured children last year -- in jeopardy.

The Community Partnership Immunization Clinic held monthly at Arlington Heights' village hall has provided vaccines to those 19 and under from the entire Chicago area since 1993, said Mary Sterrenberg, village nurse.

But because of a change that now prevents the village's health services department from vaccinating underinsured children, that may not be the case in the future.

An immunization clinic scheduled for Monday, Feb. 18, already has been canceled, and Sterrenberg said they will have to move forward on a "month-by-month" basis.

Vaccines for Children is a federally funded program that allows agencies to provide vaccines to uninsured children, while Vaccines for Children Plus allows agencies to vaccinate children whose insurance does not cover immunizations.

"Illinois previously used discretionary federal funds and state funds to provide for the underinsured seeking vaccinations outside of a federally qualified health center or rural health center," said Sabrina Miller, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Public Health, "but those funds were cut by 20 percent."

Because of the cuts, effective Jan. 1, the department had to restrict underinsured vaccines to state-certified local health departments, which Arlington Heights is not, Miller said.

Sterrenberg said there are only a few certified departments in the Chicago area, including Cook County, Evanston and Skokie, and that becoming a certified agency is not an option for Arlington Heights right now.

The Arlington Heights health services department is working on an appeal in an effort to become "deputized," a designation that would allow the clinic to continue serving underinsured children, possibly in conjunction with a certified department, but an agreement has not yet been reached.

Arlington Heights does not get the funding in dollars, but in vaccines, the amount of which can vary depending on the year. In 2012 more than 810 children were served, with many receiving multiple vaccines, Sterrenberg said. Of them, 709 were underinsured.

This change will also affect village-run clinics in Elk Grove and Hoffman Estates, but in Arlington Heights nearly 87 percent of the children seeking vaccines are underinsured.

Underinsured clients pay $5 per vaccine, but actual costs range from $15 to $200 each. Without those patients, the clinic cannot afford to operate, Sterrenberg said.

Miller said the state is working on a solution to the Arlington Heights issue, and that other resources remain available for the underinsured in Cook County.

"From a public health standpoint, we need this. We're trying to keep people healthy here," Sterrenberg said.

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