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Childhood Vaccination Rates Up, CDC Says

Kate Traynor

The number of young children who are up-to-date on recommended childhood vaccinations reached an all-time high in the United States last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Full coverage for the six universally recommended vaccines—the 4:3:1:3:3:1 series (see sidebar)—was 72.5 percent last year, up seven percentage points from 2002, for children 19–36 months of age. Vaccination rates have also improved to new highs for all component vaccines in the series, despite periodic shortages of most vaccines in recent years, according to the July 30 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Children who are been fully vaccinated according to the 4:3:1:3:3:1 series have received

  • Four or more doses of diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis vaccine, diphtheria and tetanus toxoids, or diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine,
  • Three or more doses of poliovirus vaccine,
  • One or more doses of measles-containing vaccine (commonly measles, mumps, and rubella virus vaccine),
  • Three or more doses of Haemophilus b vaccine
  • Three or more doses of hepatitis B vaccine, and
  • One or more doses of varicella virus vaccine.

Data for the report were compiled from the National Immunization Survey (NIS), a nationwide telephone survey of U.S. households, and from examination of vaccination records for 21,210 children.

Coverage was highest for Haemophilus b vaccine, with 93.9 percent of the children receiving the entire three-dose series. The lowest coverage rates were for varicella and for diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccines, with 84.8 percent of children fully vaccinated against these diseases.

Of note, only one dose is currently required for full vaccination against varicella. Full vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus requires four shots. The report notes that 96 percent of children in the survey received three of the four recommended doses of diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccines.

CDC reported that 68.1 percent of children received at least three doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in 2003, up from 40.9 percent in 2002. Only 36.7 percent received all four recommended doses last year.

Frequent shortages of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine have occurred since the product was licensed in 2000. CDC currently recommends that the fourth dose of the vaccine be deferred until the supply improves. The agency had recommended also deferring the third dose beginning in March of this year but rescinded that request earlier this month.

CDC stated in the report that additional analysis of NIS data will be needed to gauge the effects of vaccine shortages on the attainment of vaccination goals.