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Most Toddlers Get Their Shots on Time

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About 75 percent of the nation's toddlers have received most of the recommended vaccines on time, the highest level recorded, health officials said Thursday.

But parts of the country fare worse, and skepticism about the safety of immunizations among some parents poses problems, according to new surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the National Partnership for Immunization in Washington.

The CDC's annual immunization survey found 75 percent of toddlers ages 19 months to 35 months are getting an important series of inoculations that includes: four doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; three doses of polio, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B (for bacterial meningitis); and one dose of measles. That's up from 73 percent two years ago.

But lower levels are common in Western states, with Colorado the lowest at 63 percent. Massachusetts had the best record, vaccinating 86 percent of children on time. Georgia was at 80 percent, the CDC's nationwide goal.

It's not clear why vaccination levels vary so much among states, said Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the CDC's National Immunization Program.

He pointed to two efforts that could improve rates across the country: computerized registries that send physicians and parents reminders about shots, and a vaccine stockpile the CDC plans to prepare by 2006 to buffer against periodic shortages.

"If we let down our guard . . . vaccine-preventable diseases will return," Orenstein said.

One reason some kids don't get shots is because their parents question the purpose and safety of vaccines, said David Neumann, executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization.

A National Partnership for Immunization survey found that 15 percent of adults think vaccinations aren't necessary. Among them, 64 percent said it's difficult to get information they trust, and 21 percent said the body's immune system can adequately protect against many diseases.

It's true that children sometimes can fight off illnesses on their own, but diseases often can lead to hospitalization or death, Neumann said. And children who are not vaccinated can spread diseases to people whose immune systems are compromised.

"There are still tens of thousands of children in the U.S. at risk of acquiring life-threatening and preventable diseases," Neumann said.

Health officials recommend that by age 2 children receive about 20 doses of vaccine against 11 diseases.

The CDC survey said 81 percent of toddlers were inoculated against chickenpox, up from 68 percent two years ago.

Forty-one percent of children have received the newest immunization, pneumococcal vaccine against some cases of meningitis and ear infection. Officials expect that figure to rise as the vaccine becomes more widely known.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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