ATLANTA -- The number of children in the nation receiving immunizations remains at an all time high, with significant increases in the coverage rates for varicella (chickenpox) and pnuemococcal conjugate vaccine, two of the most recent additions to the childhood immunization schedule. However, wide variations exist among states and among some urban areas.
The findings were reported today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The news conference, sponsored by the National Partnership for Immunization (NPI), kicked off August as National Immunization Awareness Month.
"Vaccines are one of the most important tools we have to protect the health of our nation's most vulnerable citizens, our children," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "Theses results demonstrate our nation's ability to reach high immunization coverage rates. The President and HHS remain committed to ensuring that our children continue to get the vaccines they need for a healthy start in life."
The CDC reports that coverage for three or more doses of pnuemococcal conjugate vaccine, being reported for the first time, was 40.9 percent. Pnuemococcal conjugate vaccine can help prevent serious pnuemococcal disease. Invasive pnuemococcal disease is responsible for about 200 deaths each year among children under 5 years old. Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools for preventing disease and death. Because of nationwide immunization efforts, the number of most vaccine-preventable diseases has been reduced by more than 99 percent since the implementation of immunization programs.
"We are pleased with the progress we're making in regards to immunization rates in the United States," said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. "However, we have more work to do to make sure our nation's children are protected. The consequences from vaccine-preventable disease to even one child is an unnecessary human tragedy."
National vaccination coverage with chickenpox vaccine increased from 76.3 percent in 2001 to 80.6 percent in 2002. For all other vaccines, coverage remained steady compared to 2001.
This year, coverage also is reported for the first time for the immunization series which includes four doses of DTaP, three doses of polio vaccine, one dose of measles containing vaccine, three doses of Hib vaccine, three doses of hepatitis B vaccine and one dose of varicella vaccine (known as the 4:3:1:3:3:1 series). Coverage in 2002 for the series increased to 65.5 percent compared to 54.1 percent in 2000 and 61.3 percent in 2001.
The estimated coverage with the same series, minus the one dose of varicella vaccine, ranged from 86.2 percent in Massachusetts to 62.7 percent in Colorado, a difference of 23.5 percentage points. Variations among urban areas was slightly less than among the states. Among the 28 identified urban areas, the highest estimated coverage for the series that did not include the chicken pox vaccine was 79.3 percent in Santa Clara County, California with the lowest rate at 57.5 percent in Newark, New Jersey, a difference of 21.8 percentage points.
"Unfortunately, immunization coverage is not uniformly high across the country," said Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, director of the CDC National Immunization Program (NIP). "There is a substantial variation in coverage levels between various states and cities. Eliminating the disparity between those with the highest and lowest coverage remains a priority. We need the public health community and private providers in areas of low coverage rates to intensify their efforts."