A shot at going to Disney World

January 14, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County has a new idea to get reluctant parents to immunize infants: It's offering a free, weeklong trip to Walt Disney World and other Florida attractions for one family.

County officials hope publicity about the prize, worth more than $5,000, will boost the number of immunizations for hepatitis, diphtheria and other childhood diseases. Only 62 percent of the county's children have received their state-required shots by the proper age, the local health officer estimates.

"It's an interesting concept," R. Barry Trostel, assistant chief of Maryland's Center for Immunizations, says -- and an original one.

"We're it. We're first," says county health officer Dr. Michelle A. Leverett.

Late immunizations have long troubled Baltimore-area localities. In 1995, city officials discovered that about 20,000 students weren't immunized. Despite a broad vaccination campaign, thousands had to stay home from school until they got all their shots.

In August, Gov. Parris N. Glendening launched a campaign involving 500 health fairs and 18,000 volunteers to make sure at least 90 percent of Maryland's children receive their immunization shots by age 2. According to the most recent statewide survey of school-age 5-year-olds, 69 percent had their shots by the proper age -- up from 53 percent nine years earlier.

Vaccinations are required for school enrollment in Maryland, and state officials say the immunization rate for school-age children is nearly 100 percent. But public health officials fear that vulnerable younger children might not be getting protection against infectious diseases.

At least five shots are needed in the 15 months after birth to stop childhood diseases, Trostel said. The diseases targeted are: measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, chickenpox, hepatitis B and Hib (a type of meningitis).

The goal of Baltimore County's contest -- which needs County Council approval -- is to boost the local immunization rate to more than 80 percent. The county has 18,000 children age 2 or younger.

Last year in Baltimore County, 193 cases of hepatitis B, eight cases of mumps and 22 of whooping cough (pertussis) were reported by people of all ages to the health department -- all diseases preventable in children with vaccinations.

The contest prizes -- $5,269 in hotel, food, air travel and Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World tickets -- are being donated by the businesses involved. The winner will get seven days' lodging and meals at Choice Hotels International, free airfare on US Airways, the tickets and perhaps spending money.

Families who participate can get an "Immunization Passport" that will be stamped each time their children receive a shot. When all the shots have been given, each family will get a gift, plus entry into the grand prize drawing, planned in the summer of 1999.

Cost is no object for those without health insurance, Leverett says, because public health clinics will administer shots free.

Tiffany Tate, coordinator of county immunization programs, conceived the contest and solicited corporate donations for the trip. If the County Council endorses the contest, health department officials hope to stage a televised kick-off next month at Towson Town Center mall.

The national public health goal is a 90 percent immunization rate by age 3 in 2000. To reach that, Leverett says, "There's a long way to go."

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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