State Health Commissioner, HHS Deputy Secretary Promote Importance of Childhood Immunizations

Timely Vaccinations are Critical to Reduce Serious Illness from Preventable Diseases

NEW YORK, NY, September 9, 2003 - New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H today welcomed Deputy Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Claude A. Allen to New York State and joined him at the New York Presbyterian Washington Heights Health Center, to reinforce the importance of childhood immunizations and the vital role they play in ending health care disparities in communities of color.

"Immunization is the most cost effective preventive measure that can be taken to protect our children from life-threatening diseases," Dr. Novello said. "Thanks to Governor Pataki's commitment to enhance health care accessibility for all New Yorkers, our State's immunization rates are at an all time high. And while many states continue to have large disparities in vaccination rates among racial and ethnic groups compared to whites, New York is closing the gap."

Deputy HHS Secretary Allen said, "Children are the future of America and the President has made improving children's health a priority of his administration. We are committed to dramatically increasing childhood immunization rates and giving all our children, whatever their race, ethnicity or economic status, the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong."

Cynthia Sparer, Executive Director of the Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian and Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Women's, Children's and Community Health Services at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said, "We cannot do enough to stress the importance of childhood immunizations in promoting the health of our children. We are committed to doing all that we can to ensure that children in our communities receive health care that will enable them to live healthy and productive lives."

New York State's immunization rate for two-year-olds for the entire series of recommended vaccinations, including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, Hib, hepatitis B, varicella and pneumoccal disease is 78 percent. That rate is higher than the national average (75 percent) and rates for other large states including California (73 percent), Florida (75 percent) and Texas (68 percent).

Virtually all children in New York State have received all required vaccinations by the time they enter school. Less than one percent of children are exempted from vaccination for religious reasons or unusual medical conditions. Vaccination rates among minority children also continue to rise. White, Hispanic and African American children have nearly the same vaccination rates for a common childhood disease, measles. The vaccination rate among white and Hispanic two-year-olds is 94 percent; among African American two-year-olds the rate is 97 percent.

"While we have experienced much success in New York State, we are determined to reach our goal of 100 percent vaccination for children during the first two years of life," Dr. Novello said. "Governor Pataki has taken steps to ensure that no child in New York misses these life-saving vaccinations because of a lack of health insurance or inability to pay."

New York's Vaccines for Children program has contributed to the State's success in improving childhood immunization. The program gives vaccines free-of-charge to healthcare providers to administer to children who have no health insurance, or whose insurance does not cover the full cost of immunization. Last year more than 2.6 million doses of free vaccine were distributed to nearly 3,000 healthcare providers throughout New York State and more than 22 million doses of free vaccine have been distributed over the life of the program.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of children, including high numbers of minority children, receive free or low-cost vaccinations through the State's Child Health Plus Program. Child Health Plus provides comprehensive health insurance coverage at no cost, or low cost, to thousands of children who previously had no coverage and limited access to primary and preventive health care.

Dr. Novello said outreach and education about the importance of childhood immunization is crucial, particularly in minority communities. Misconceptions that vaccination is unnecessary because common childhood diseases are no longer prevalent in the United States, and that vaccines frequently produce harmful side effects keep some children from being vaccinated at the appropriate age. Parents should ensure that infants and toddlers receive immunizations according to the recommended schedule because children under two are at the highest risk of serious illness from vaccine preventable diseases.