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Div. of Media Relations
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(404) 639-3286
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Thursday, July 6, 2000

Contact: CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 639–3286

Nation Reports New Highs in Childhood Immunization Levels

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala announced today that the nation's childhood immunization coverage rates for 1999 are the highest ever recorded. According to the findings, reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the overall immunization rate for preschool children remains at 80 percent, and rates for four individual vaccines increased from 1998 to 1999. The overall rate is a dramatic increase from 55 percent in 1992.

The report also shows that childhood immunization coverage for toddlers increased for Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib) (now 93.5 percent); three doses of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTP) (95.9 percent ); and three doses of hepatitis B vaccine (88.1 percent). Coverage for varicella (chickenpox) vaccine increased 16.2 percentage points in one year, from 43.2 percent in 1998 to 59.4 percent in 1999. This marks the first time over half the children surveyed were immunized for varicella. Rates for poliovirus vaccine and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine were relatively unchanged.

"Thanks in large part to these high immunization rates, we have seen a breathtaking decline in suffering and death from most vaccine-preventable diseases," said Secretary Shalala. "This new report serves as a reminder that vaccines work—they are cost-effective tools to prevent disease. Without them, epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases could easily return, resulting in increased illness, disability, and death. Our task is to reach all the children who still remain unvaccinated and at risk."

Secretary Shalala said HHS is encouraging state Medicaid programs to provide support for childhood immunization registries. These registries help parents, pediatricians, public clinics and other health care providers keep track of the vaccinations children need from birth to age two. In a letter sent to all state Medicaid directors today, HHS describes how states can access federal Medicaid funding for the development and operation of immunization registries that include Medicaid-eligible children. Specifically, it will clarify that, in states where the immunization registry is developed, owned and operated by a public health or other non-Medicaid agency, Medicaid will match 50 percent of states’ costs associated with Medicaid-eligible children. In states where the immunization registry is developed, owned and/or operated by its Medicaid agency as part of its Medicaid management information system, the federal matching payments will be between 75 and 90 percent, depending on the type of expenditure. This funding should improve the development and operation of these critical registries.

Vaccination has been one of the most effective tools of the 20th century for preventing disease and death. Because childhood vaccination levels in the United States are at an all time high, disease and death from diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and Hib are at or near record lows. For instance, there was only one reported case of diphtheria, 100 reported cases of measles, and no reported cases of wild poliovirus for nationally 1999.

"We are very pleased with our progress," said CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, "but the data also show there are still many children who are not adequately immunized. As a result, children may suffer from diseases that are easily preventable through vaccination. Our success has made many vaccine-preventable diseases almost invisible to parents and the public. The viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable diseases still circulate in the United States. We need to protect the 11,000 babies born each day in the United States."

State-specific coverage for both combined vaccination series—the 4:3:1 series (four doses of DTP, three doses of poliovirus vaccine, and one dose of MMR) and the 4:3:1:3 series (4:3:1 plus three doses of Hib)—did not change significantly from 1998 to 1999. Both ranged from approximately 69 percent to 91 percent among the 50 states. Coverage in selected urban areas ranged from 67 percent to 87 percent for the 4:3:1 series and from 63 percent to 85 percent for the 4:3:1:3 series.

Immunizing children against infectious diseases is a central mission for the public health system. In 1993 the Clinton Administration launched the Childhood Immunization Initiative (CII) with a 1996 goal of vaccinating 90 percent of the nation's children by age two with the most critical doses of routinely recommended vaccines. With the exception of Hep B, this goal was achieved and has been maintained since 1996. Coverage for Hep B at 88.1 percent in 1999 is less than two percentage points short of the goal.

Between 1995 and 1996, coverage with poliovirus vaccine increased from 87.9 percent to 91.1 percent and has since remained stable. Coverage with Hib was greater than 90 percent in 1995 and has been maintained at high levels through 1999. Measles-containing vaccine coverage increased 3.7 percentage points since 1995, reaching 91.5 percent in 1999.

"Unfortunately, immunization coverage is not uniformly high across the country," said Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, director of CDC's National Immunization Program. "The data show that there is substantial variation in coverage levels between various states and cities. We call on the public health community and private providers in areas with low coverage rates to intensify their efforts so that no child will have to needlessly suffer from vaccine-preventable disease. The suffering or death of even one child from a vaccine-preventable disease is an unnecessary tragedy. If parents have questions about vaccinations, they should talk with their health provider or call the National Immunization Hotline toll free at 1-800-232-2522 (English) or 1-800-232-0233 (Spanish)."

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This page last reviewed Friday, July 6, 2000

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