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FOR RELEASE: August 2, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Oklahoma Childhood Immunization Levels Frustrate State Health Officials

Last year, only 71 percent of Oklahoma's 2-year-olds were up-to-date on their childhood immunizations for DTaP, polio, measles/mumps/rubella, and Hib. This latest assessment, released today by the National Immunization Survey, indicates Oklahoma ranks as the fourth lowest state in the nation for the number of 2-year-olds who have completed their required number of immunization doses.

State health officials note several reasons for Oklahoma's low ranking, but one overrides all others. “Oklahoma's immunization rates would be well above the national average if we could make improvements in just one shot: the fourth required DTaP,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “This shot is recommended between the ages of 15 and 18 months, yet about one-fourth of our parents are not getting their child back to their health care provider for that fourth DTaP dose.”

Beitsch said another factor affecting Oklahoma's immunization rates is the reduction of federal assistance for immunization program operations. In 1999, prior to the most recent federal reductions, Oklahoma's rates improved to 78 percent, due in part to the immunization promotion efforts of 26 community outreach workers spread across the state. These positions were defunded following the federal budget cuts.

Additionally, since 1995, Oklahoma has struggled with its system of health care, moving away from public health care to private or managed care. In 1994, only 25 percent of children received their immunizations at a private physician's office, while 50 percent received their immunizations at a local county health department. Now, nearly half of all children are receiving their shots at private clinics and only one-third from county health departments. Even so, the number of actual immunizations has doubled at county health departments as a result of new vaccines added to the child vaccine schedule.

Finally, another issue influencing Oklahoma's rates is record keeping. As society becomes more mobile and parents of young children move more often, records become fragmented between health care providers.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to improve the immunization rates for Oklahoma's children,” Beitsch said. To counter scattered or incomplete immunization records and assure that Oklahoma's children are protected against preventable childhood diseases, he said the Oklahoma State Department of Health has developed a statewide immunization registry. This registry is utilized by all public health clinics and by about one-third of the private health care providers. The registry also allows for ease in notifying parents when their child is past due for immunizations.

To improve immunization outreach and education efforts in Oklahoma's three largest metropolitan areas, citizens in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton have developed local immunization action coalitions. The coalitions represent partnerships between public and private health care providers, businesses, Rotary Clubs and others committed to helping children. “We are encouraged that these community partnerships offer the capacity to make the biggest difference in increasing our immunization rates,” Beitsch said. “Sometimes real change occurs as the result of just a few concerned people getting together to address issues affecting our children.”

Citizens interested in joining or starting a local immunization coalition in their community can contact the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Immunization Service at 405/271-4073, or contact their local county health department.

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