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Missouri last in toddler vaccines
Vaccines

Missouri last in toddler vaccines

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Missouri's toddlers have the lowest immunization rates in the country for a recommended seven-vaccine series, according to data released Thursday.

Just 56 percent of children ages 19 months to 35 months had received all of the recommended early childhood vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, hepatitis B and chickenpox in 2009. The national average was 71 percent.

"What this tells us is we've still got a lot of work to do to explain the safety of these vaccines," said Kit Wagar, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. "As long as parents are apprehensive about safety, the rates are going to be below average in Missouri."

Contributing to the state's low numbers was the addition of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to the routine series of shots outlined in the data. Missouri also ranked last for that vaccine, 68 percent compared with the national average of 80 percent.

The four pneumococcal shots, administered in a baby's first year, can protect against certain types of meningitis, pneumonia and blood infections that tend to be more serious in children younger than 2.

Next year's numbers should be better, state officials anticipate, because as of July, children entering preschool or day care in Missouri will be required to have the pneumococcal vaccine series.

Iowa, which has the country's highest rate of pneumococcal vaccination, at 84 percent, started requiring the shots for preschoolers in 2009. Illinois updated its day care entrance laws to include the pneumococcal vaccine in 2007, and its rate of 83 percent is one of the best in the country.

Missouri also ranked low for other vaccines that aren't required for school entrance, with one-third of young children getting the hepatitis A vaccine and fewer than half getting the rotavirus vaccine.

Parents "are apt to pass on it if it's not required," Wagar said.

By the time Missouri schoolchildren enter kindergarten, almost all have received the required vaccines, according to the state health department.

But school requirements don't completely explain Missouri's overall low rates.

At least 18 other states did not require pneumococcal vaccines for students entering preschool in 2009, and all had higher compliance rates than Missouri's, according to the Immunization Action Coalition, which is funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide education on vaccines.

"It is obviously very depressing to look at the Missouri data," said Dr. Joseph Kahn, chief of pediatrics at St. John's Mercy Children's Hospital.

Kahn said his office saw a significant decrease in rotavirus cases after a vaccine came out in 2006.

"There's no question these vaccines work," Kahn said. "The state and the people who are responsible for taking care of children need to take this information to heart and figure out how to improve these rates."

Wagar acknowledged that Missouri consistently ranks low for vaccination rates among children and adults. Fewer than 16 percent of residents received swine flu (H1N1) vaccines last season. Only Louisiana and Mississippi had lower rates.

Nationally, the rates for the most routine childhood vaccines stayed at about 90 percent, according to the report. Fewer than 1 percent of toddlers had received no vaccinations.

Health officials did raise concerns about an annual drop in the measles rate, from 92 percent to 90 percent.

Missouri health officials reported one case of measles in 2009 and two in 2010. At least two of the infected residents were not vaccinated. Illinois reported 32 cases of measles in 2008, the latest figures available.

The National Immunization Survey is conducted by the CDC each year through telephone interviews with parents and vaccination data from pediatricians and other health care providers.

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