March 28, 1997 in Nation/World

Immunization At All-Time High And Paying Off

Associated Press

Childhood diseases are in full retreat in the United States because the nation has achieved the highest level of immunizations in its history, public health officials said Thursday.

Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the national immunization program of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that vaccinations now are protecting more than 90 percent of U.S. children against nine diseases and about 78 percent against a 10th disease, hepatitis B.

“This is the highest coverage we have ever had,” Orenstein said. “Immunization rates are at record highs and the incidence of vaccination-preventable diseases are at record lows.”

Orenstein and other experts, however, warned that all of the childhood diseases are not defeated, but merely in retreat. The diseases, such as measles, mumps and diphtheria, are still present in other countries and would rapidly infect people in the United States without a continued vaccination effort among children.

Under a new childhood immunization schedule, babies start getting shots shortly after birth and continue to get vaccines until about age 6. Catch-up shots, for vaccines that were missed, can be given as late as ages 11 to 12.

Complacency toward vaccinations led to a resurgence of measles in 1989, when the nation recorded 55,000 cases, including 150 deaths. Orenstein said this occurred because the percentage of children inoculated against measles dropped to about 67 percent.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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