THURSDAY, Sept. 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time in the last 10 years, rates of recommended vaccinations were similar for American children of all races and ethnicities, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In fact, U.S. immunization programs have grown into a real success story, experts say.
"We have immunization rates that are at or near record highs," Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said at a press conference Thursday. "We have closed, or are very close to closing, the gap in coverage between racial and ethnic groups. That's something we've been working on for many years," she said.
The National Immunization Survey is published in the Sept. 14 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It finds that over 76 percent of all children have already received all six vaccines recommended and tracked by the CDC. The report surveyed over 17,000 children age 19 to 35 months, Schuchat said.
The vaccines include those for whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B.
"The really exciting news is that we are closing the gap between blacks and other groups in the six vaccine series," Schuchat added.
For racial and ethnic groups the specific rates for those receiving all six vaccines are: 79.5 percent of children of multiple race, 77.1 percent of Asian; 76.3 percent of black kids; 76 percent of whites, and 75.6 percent of Hispanic children. "There was no statistically significant difference between any of those groups," Schuchat said.
Past reports that tracked rates for five vaccines found a 10 percent disparity between blacks and whites in 2002 and a 3 percent disparity in 2005. Among Hispanics, the disparity was 7.5 percent in 2000 and 3 percent in 2005.
There is still a wide variation between states in vaccine coverage, Schuchat noted.
"The state with the highest immunization coverage was Massachusetts. Their six vaccine coverage was 90.7 percent. The state with the lowest immunization coverage was Vermont. Their coverage was 62.9 percent," she said. Schuchat said the reason for these state-by-state disparities remains unclear.
The CDC is now hoping to achieve at least 80 percent coverage for all six vaccines throughout the United States by 2010, she said.
In addition, the CDC's National Immunization Survey found that in 2005 more than 50 percent of children were fully vaccinated with pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), and more than 80 percent received at least three of the four required doses.
Vaccination with all four doses of PCV is likely to stay low because of earlier vaccine shortages.
One expert is pleased by the increasing vaccine coverage but also concerned about disparities between states and cities.
"We think it's fantastic that the rates are at high levels," said Amy Pisani, the executive director of Every Child By Two, which promotes childhood vaccinations. "But we are very concerned about the differences between states and the differences in urban areas," she said.
For example, immunization rates in Las Vegas are just 59 percent, Pisani said. "That's a lot of children at risk," she said, adding that "over 40 percent of their children are not immunized on time."
Pisani said Every Child By Two is working in key cities such as Las Vegas, Cleveland, Houston and Newark to increase immunization rates.
"The challenges are so severe [in inner cities] that if we don't put some real effort into it, and get some state level support and local congressman support, I don't know what will happen," Pisani said. "I feel hopeful in some ways, but when I go into a community and see what is going on, I don't know how they can possibly overcome the challenges they have if we don't make it as easy and simple as possible," she said.
There's more on childhood immunization at Every Child By Two.