WASHINGTON -- Alarmed at recent outbreaks of measles and other childhood diseases, Bush administration officials want to require children to be fully immunized as a condition of receiving welfare or Medicaid.
Federal health officials said yesterday that such a requirement would encourage poor people to make sure their children get vaccines against measles, mumps, polio, whooping cough and other diseases.
Inadequate immunization has contributed to outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases, health experts say.
All states now require children to be immunized by the time they start school. But in many poor inner-city neighborhoods, one-third to one-half of preschool children have not received the basic immunizations that experts say they should get before the second birthday.
Federal, state and local health agencies and parents now share the cost of inoculating hundreds of thousands of youngsters in public health clinics, and that sharing would presumably continue if the proposal went into effect.
Preliminary estimates suggest the cost of vaccines for preschoolers who now go without protection against the major childhood diseases could reach $55 million a year.
Some state health and welfare officials have objected to the proposal, saying it would impede access to welfare and Medicaid. Federal health officials said they would heed such concerns in refining the proposal, which is subject to approval by the White House and Congress.
Based on current law, the proposal might even bar the whole family from certain types of aid in some cases.
In the first 46 weeks of this year, 25,155 cases of measles were reported to the government. That is 70 percent more than the cases in the comparable period last year.