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HHS News
Embargoed until 4:00 p.m. EST

September 23, 1999
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 1998 were 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 pre-school children increased to a record 80 percent.

The report also shows that childhood immunization coverage for toddlers increased for Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib) (now 93.4 percent), measles-containing vaccine (92.1 percent), four doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTP) (83.9 percent ) and three doses of hepatitis B vaccine (87 percent). Coverage with varicella (chickenpox) vaccine increased 17.3 percentage points in one year, from 25.9 percent in 1997 to 43.2 percent in 1998. Coverage for poliovirus vaccine was unchanged in 1998 (90.8 percent) and coverage for three doses of DTP was 95.6 percent in 1998, compared to a coverage level of 95.5 percent in 1997.

All 50 states achieved 90 percent immunization coverage for 3 doses of DTP. For other vaccines, the number of states with 90 percent rates in 1998 for Hib was 47, for poliovirus 40, and for measles 40. Of the 28 urban areas measured, 23 achieved the goal for Hib, 13 for poliovirus vaccine, 16 for measles containing vaccine, five for Hep B, and 27 for DTP3. No state or city has yet achieved the 90 percent goal for varicella.

"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 the millions of children who still remain unvaccinated and at risk."

Vaccination has been one 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 1998.

"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 and, as a result, 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. We must remember, however, the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine preventable diseases still circulate in the United States. With 11,000 babies born each day in the United States, we need to protect them and avoid potential epidemics."

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 87 percent in 1998 is only three 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 remained stable since then. Coverage with Hib was greater than 90 percent in 1995 and has been maintained at high levels through 1998. Measles containing vaccine coverage increased 2.2 percentage points since 1995, reaching 92.1 percent in 1998.

"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. I 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)."

Note: MMWR article available at (go to In the News) and state by state rates available at

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