July 26, 2005 -- U.S. officials on Tuesday reported record high rates of childhood vaccinations in 2004, but they continue to struggle with low use of vaccines by seniors.
Just under 81% of children under 3 years of age received all of the government-recommended vaccinations last year, the CDC reported. That's an uptick from the 79.4% who got them in 2003.
Vaccination rates were higher for white children than for minorities. Eighty-five percent of whites but only 76% of blacks and 81.2% of Hispanics were fully immunized, according to CDC recommendations.
Officials said they were encouraged by increasing immunization rates among children. But they acknowledged that they are still seeing high rates of at least one vaccine-preventable illness.
CDC Director Julie M. Gerberding, MD, called the 2004 vaccination rates "terrific news."
Government recommendations call for 14 shots against nine contagious diseases -- including measles, mumps, pneumococcal meningitis, and diphtheria -- when children are between 19 and 35 months of age. Some children also receive vaccination against influenza.
"We enjoy record low levels of these devastating diseases," said Stephen L. Cochi, MD, acting director of the CDC's national immunization program.
Florida led the country with an 89% child vaccination rate, followed by Connecticut (88%) and Rhode Island (87%). Nevada had the nation's lowest child vaccine coverage at 68%.
Whooping Cough Still Widespread
Health authorities are "still struggling" with high rates of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, Cochi said. Nearly 19,000 cases were reported to the CDC last year, including 15 deaths in infants who most likely contracted it from infected adolescents or adults.
The FDA earlier this year approved a pair of pertussis booster shots designed to re-establish immunity in adolescents who were vaccinated as children.
"Nobody got pertussis any more, I thought," said Monika Burke, a Philadelphia woman who's 16-year-old daughter, Sofie Starcevic, contracted a serious case of whooping cough last year.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious, potentially serious illness in adolescents and adults. It can cause prolonged cough and missed days at school and work. Whooping cough is more frequently severe and can even be fatal in babies, particularly in infants too young to be fully vaccinated.
Since 1980, the rates of reported whooping cough cases have been increasing in adolescents and adults, as well as in young infants. Adolescents and adults can spread whooping cough infection to susceptible young infants and other family members.
Adult Rates Poor
Experts remain disappointed by poor adult vaccination rates last year.
Less than 70% of U.S. elderly got recommended vaccinations against influenza last year, far short of 2010 federal goals of 90%. Less than five in 10 African-Americans and 6 in 10 Hispanics over 65 years of age got flu shots.
Despite widespread flu vaccine shortages, demand among seniors was still too low in 2004 and 2005 to use all available doses, the CDC reported this year. Only 37% of adults aged 50 to 64 and 24% of those aged 18 to 49 at high risk of influenza because of asthma, cancer treatment, or other chronic health problems got flu shots least year, officials reported.
Less than 60% of elderly persons got universally recommended shots against pneumococcal pneumonia in 2002, according to the CDC's National Center on Health Statistics.
"The statistics we have are very disappointing," said David A. Neumann, PhD, executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization, a nonprofit group that received funding from the CDC and from vaccine manufacturers.