CHILD IMMUNIZATION: Reaches Record High in 1999
Childhood vaccination rates in the United States reached an all-time high in 1999, with more than 80% of toddlers receiving five of the six recommended vaccines, according to a CDC survey released yesterday. The 50-state survey interviewed the parents of 34,442 children ages 19-35 months, revealing that although the usage rate for most vaccinations changed only slightly from 1998 to 1999, use of the chicken pox vaccine, first available in 1995, escalated from 43.2% of young children to 59.4%. The study also found an 88.1% vaccination rate for hepatitis B and a 95.9% rate for diptheria-tetanus-pertussis. Among the states, Vermont had the highest vaccination rate at 90.5% in 1999, while Oregon held the lowest rate at 72.3%. "Thanks in large part to these high immunization rates, we have seen a breathtaking decline in suffering and death from most vaccine-preventable diseases," HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said (AP/Los Angeles Times, 7/7).
New Funds for Registries
Shalala added, however, that the increase is a "record to build on, not rest on," saying that 900,000 children under the age of two have not been fully immunized and that the nation has not yet met a 1993 goal, to have at least 90% of all 2-year-olds receive the "basic series of vaccinations." To work toward this goal, Shalala announced yesterday that the administration will make available $100 million in Medicaid funds to reimburse states for up to 90% of the cost of implementing and maintaining secure computer registries to track the vaccination records of pediatric Medicaid patients. Intended to improve administrative efficiency and reduce vaccine waste, the system will allow physicians to track vaccination records and will generate postcards to remind parents that children are due for a shot (Manning, USA Today, 7/7).
Low Rates in Houston
The CDC study also found that the city of Houston maintains the lowest vaccination rate of any large U.S. city, and CDC officials said they fear the nation's fourth-largest city may serve as a "portal for an epidemic" that could spread nationwide, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports. Only 67% of Houston children between 19 and 35 months of age received vaccinations in 1999. Dr. Walt Orenstein, who directs the CDC's national immunization program, said the city's low vaccination rate is "something that the government and the community need to address immediately," noting that a national resurgence of measles between 1989 and 1991 that infected 55,000 people and killed 120 began in Houston. Orenstein said that Houston's low vaccination rates result in part from drops in federal money earmarked for vaccinations, which fell from $3.5 million in 1996 to $1 million in 1999. Compounding the city's problem is the rapidly growing population of new immigrants, who often face language, cultural or financial barriers to preventive health care, Anna White, director of a local mobile health clinic, said. "Illegal immigrants are afraid to come to clinics because they fear they might be deported," she added. Kathy Barton, spokesperson for the City of Houston Health Department, disputed the survey results, saying, "They survey a very, very few households. And also, because we don't have a central registry for vaccinations, when they try to trace records, they often can't find records that exist." City health care workers are scheduled to meet July 18 to discuss possible solutions for the low vaccination rate and to seek assistance from the government and corporations (Grant, 7/6).