WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has unveiled an aggressive plan to immunize millions of young U.S. children -- particularly in cities where large numbers remain unprotected.
Only about two-thirds of children younger than 2 now receive all the immunizations they need. The record is far worse for inner cities, where research indicates that half of the children have not been immunized against preventable diseases.
"We've got to do a better job of dealing with the health, the nutrition, the educational and emotional needs of our very youngest children if we expect to have the kind of future that Americans deserve," Mr. Clinton said during a ceremony yesterday at the White House.
A recent report from the Carnegie Corp. of New York concluded that U.S. children are among the least likely in the world to be immunized.
Childhood vaccines prevent such infectious diseases as polio, measles, diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, rubella, tetanus and hepatitis-B.
A national measles epidemic from 1989 to 1991 resulted in more than 55,000 reported cases, 11,000 hospitalizations and 166 deaths, says Dr. Robert Johnson, a pediatrician in Newark, N.J.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has made childhood immunization a pet project, said: "Vaccinating children is not rocket science. The United States has the third worst rate of immunization in the Western Hemisphere."
The plan's two main goals are:
* Increasing initial vaccination levels from 65 percent to 90 percent of all 2-year-olds by 1996.
* Guaranteeing that 90 percent of all 2-year-olds get all required vaccines by 2000.
To accomplish that, the president proposes spending $1 billion on childhood immunization in fiscal year 1995, which begins Oct. 1, up from $813 million in the current budget and $599 million in the 1993 budget.
The fiscal 1995 budget also calls for spending $209 million to improve delivery of vaccines. That's five times the amount spent in 1993.
"We are taking every creative opportunity we have to stamp our message on everything from baby food to diaper boxes," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
"This initiative has more friends than Barney," she said, referring to the lovable purple dinosaur that is every toddler's buddy.
To achieve his immunization goals, Mr. Clinton is proposing:
* Free vaccines for needy children. About 9.5 million children have no health insurance.
* Increased funding for cities and states to improve delivery of vaccines, such as opening new public health clinics and expanding staff at current clinics.
* Grants for states to develop systems to remind parents when vaccinations are due.
* Getting the word out to parents via print and broadcast public service announcements.
Parents can call (800) 232-2522 or (800) 232-0233 (in Spanish) to find out about immunization services in their communities.