Childhood Immunization Rates Reached Record High in 2003, CDC Says
The childhood immunization rate in the United States reached a record high of 79.4% in 2003, increasing nearly 5% over the 2002 level, CDC officials announced on Thursday, the Washington Post reports. The vaccination rate included immunization against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, haemophilus influenza Type B, polio and hepatitis B (Brown, Washington Post, 7/30).The rates were documented in the 2003 National Immunization Survey, which examined vaccination coverage among children ages 19 months to 35 months in all 50 states and 28 urban areas (HHS release, 7/29). With more than 79% of the nation's 19- to 35-month-olds receiving the full series of inoculations in 2003 -- up from nearly 75% in 2002 -- the United States is nearing the federal government's goal of 80% of toddlers getting on-time vaccinations by 2010 (Neergaard, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/29).
About half of states posted vaccination rates above 80% in 2003 (Maltin, Palm Beach Post, 7/30). Overall, urban areas reported lower immunization rates than states, mostly because of "large concentrations of lower socioeconomically displaced persons" in urban regions, according to an HHS release (HHS release, 7/29). Connecticut had the highest vaccination rate at 94%, while Colorado had the lowest at 67.5%. The survey also found that nearly 85% of toddlers received the chickenpox vaccine in 2003, up from 81% in 2002. In addition, about 68% of toddlers received three on-time doses of the pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar, which protects against meningitis and ear infections, up from 41% in 2002. According to the AP/Sun, shortages of the vaccine limited access to the fourth recommended dose (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/29).
The statistics were released at a news conference sponsored by the National Partnership for Immunization to launch August as National Immunization Awareness Month. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "We need to thank everyone who has helped put childhood vaccination rates at an all-time high -- and then we all need to get back to work and help make this rate go even higher" (Palm Beach Post, 7/30). CDC Director Julie Gerberding said that despite the rising immunization rates, there remain "a million vulnerable children" who have not received their full series of shots. "You can be lulled into a false sense of security" because many vaccine-preventable diseases have been virtually eliminated in the United States, Gerberding said. She added that "we cannot afford to lose our vigilance" because such diseases remain prevalent in other countries.
According to the AP/Las Vegas Sun, the "newest challenge" in the effort to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases is the flu vaccine, which CDC now recommends for infants and toddlers ages 6 months to 23 months. In 2003, an early start to the flu season and fears about an especially potent strain resulted in a shortage of vaccine supplies (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/29). This year, flu vaccine manufacturers will produce about 100 million doses, up from 83 million produced last year, according to CDC. In addition, CDC will stockpile about four million doses in case of another shortage. CDC also for the first time will track how influenza epidemics affect children after at least 152 young people nationwide died of the flu in 2003 (Campbell, Newark Star-Ledger, 7/30).
Dr. David Neumann, executive director of NPI, urged flu vaccinations for high-risk people, including people older than 65, nursing home residents, adults and children with chronic illnesses, children six months to 18 years old and pregnant women. Neumann also urged college students, their families, military members and others living in close quarters to be vaccinated for bacterial meningitis (Palm Beach Post, 7/30). The CDC report is available online.