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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Immunization Rate Exceeds Federal Goals

Nearly 81% of American babies get all their recommended vaccinations before age 3, a record high, health officials said Tuesday.

Immunization rates have risen steadily. As a result, some of the diseases that once raged across the country, such as measles, rubella and polio, no longer occur naturally in the USA, says pediatrician Stephen Cochi, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Immunization Program.

Cochi says that for the first time, the immunization rate for toddlers exceeds the goal of 80% set by Healthy People 2010, a federal program designed to improve health nationwide through several strategies, such as boosting vaccination rates.

Cochi warns that as long as vaccine-preventable diseases circulate in the world, a decline in immunization could leave American children vulnerable to infection.

"Without sustaining and maintaining the high coverage levels, these diseases can come back," he says.

Among concerns are eliminating vaccine shortages, reducing racial and ethnic disparities and "addressing unfounded fears about vaccine safety, which in recent years seem to be running rampant," he says. He was referring to persistent questions raised by parents groups about the possibility that thimerosal, a preservative no longer used in vaccines given to babies, might have caused an increase in cases of autism, a developmental disorder. Public health experts have said repeatedly that such a link has not been proved.

Cochi says there is no evidence the controversy is causing an overall decline in vaccine rates, but it is raising concern among parents, and "that concerns us."

Though vaccine rates for children are improving, the news in adult immunization is not as bright, says David Neumann, director of the National Partnership for Immunization.

"Influenza, pneumonia, hepatitis B and hepatitis A impose a huge toll on adults each year in the U.S., yet all these diseases are vaccine-preventable," Neumann says. Adult immunization rates lag well behind the Healthy People 2010 goals, he says.

The goal is for 90% of adults age 65 and older to get annual flu shots and one dose of pneumonia vaccine, he says, but not quite 70% of people in that age group are vaccinated against flu each year, and only 56% have had the pneumonia vaccine.

"We don't do a very good job of letting the public know which vaccines are recommended for adults," or of encouraging people to get them, he says.


Posted by Cy

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