THURSDAY, July 29, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Childhood immunization rates are at an all-time high for both the old and the newer vaccines, according to a U.S. government survey released Thursday.
Overall, vaccination rates jumped from 74.8 percent in 2002 to 79.4 percent in 2003 in children aged 19 to 35 months, the latest National Immunization Survey found.
This included increases in the rates of coverage for chicken pox and pneumococcal pneumonia, which are the newest additions to the vaccine schedule.
The findings were reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Partnership for Immunization at a news conference to launch August as National Immunization Awareness Month.
"There's good news in terms of the steps we have been able to take, but also important challenges ahead of us," said CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding. "Because of the immunization program for children, we can prevent 12 important childhood diseases. We believe that the immunizations prevent about 10.5 million cases of disease and 35,000 deaths [a year]."
While cases of diphtheria, measles, rubella and tetanus are way down, pertussis (whooping cough) and influenza, a cause of bacterial meningitis, still need to be battled.
About 68 percent of children received the pneumococcal vaccine, while 85 percent got the varicella (chicken pox) shot, Gerberding said.
The survey found regional differences. Whereas the overall rate among U.S. children getting the full series of shots was 79 percent, only 67.5 percent in Colorado were fully vaccinated. The top-performing state was Connecticut, which had fully vaccinated 94 percent of its children. Boston was the top major city, with 88.8 percent of children receiving the full series, while Houston was the lowest, with only 69.2 percent covered.
"What this means is that there are about a million kids who have not received their full series, so there are about a million vulnerable children," Gerberding said.
Gerberding and other officials also took the opportunity to discuss the upcoming flu season.
"Each year influenza claims 36,000 lives and results in 114,000 hospitalizations, not to mention untold absenteeism in schools and workplaces across the country," said David Neumann, executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization.
The flu vaccine is recommended for an increasing number of individuals, including adults aged 65 and other, residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities, people of all ages with chronic cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, those with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, those with kidney and immune problems, pregnant women and people (such as health-care workers) who come into contact with high-risk groups.
In addition, the vaccine is strongly recommended for children aged 6 months to 23 months. "Flu-related hospitalizations and death in this age group are comparable to those seen among seniors in this country," Neumann said.
Jodi Wild's 26-month-old daughter contracted influenza before these recommendations were in place. The toddler spent six days in pediatric intensive care and required the care of a cardiologist for the next 18 months. Last year, influenza swept Colorado with such ferocity that 13 children died. Nationwide in 2003, 140 children died from influenza.
Officials also said they are hoping there won't be supply problems like there have been in previous years.
"The vaccine supply is on its way. I'm not going to predict how many doses. The manufacturer will clue us in as we get closer," Gerberding said. "We don't have any specific concerns about the supply line being disrupted as it has in the past."
This year's supply will also include nearly 6 million doses of thimerosal-free vaccine. "We hope that will meet the demand, but there are more children who should be vaccinated than we have the thimerosal-free vaccine," Gerberding said. The regular vaccine, she stressed, is considered safe and effective for kids.
This year's flu vaccine will also contain protection against the Fujian strain that caused problems last year, Gerberding said.
Adults over 65 are also urged to get a pneumococcal vaccine and certain high-risk individuals are encouraged to get a vaccine for hepatitis B. Finally, the vaccine for meningitis is not recommended except for those who are college age or joining the military, as they will be housed in close quarters with others.
John Kach contracted bacterial meningitis in March 2000, while attending college in Rhode Island. Although he eventually recovered, the fingers on both his hands, the toes on his left foot and, ultimately, both legs below the knee were amputated. He had neglected to get the $70 vaccine before going to school. "Everything I went through and my family was the cost of a pair of sneakers," he said.
For more on vaccination, visit the National Partnership for Immunization.