Rising immunization rate earns CDC award


The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention honored Baltimore health officials yesterday for significantly improving the city's immunization rate by targeting children in impoverished neighborhoods.

Baltimore received the CDC's "Most Improved" award, with 82.8 percent of city children 19 to 35 months old having received vaccines against a variety of diseases in 2004.

With dozens of 3- to 5-year-olds in attendance as evidence of the program's success, Baltimore's health commissioner, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings announced the recognition at the Health Department's East Baltimore-area office.

Baltimore's immunization rate represents a 26.8 percent increase from 2001 and is the highest immunization percentage among the seven honored cities at the CDC's National Immunization Conference in Atlanta. Anne Bailowitz, city bureau chief for child health and immunization, accepted the award yesterday in Atlanta.

Nearly 700 miles away, those primarily responsible for the honor, the Health Department team and Baltimore Healthcare Access Inc., celebrated with cake and fruit punch while announcing an 85 percent immunization goal by 2010.

"We're continuing to improve, and we want to keep going," Sharfstein said. "Our goal is to have every child immunized. To a certain extent ... you can't catch everybody, but I think we should stick with the strategy we've been successful with."

Baltimore beat out Boston (78.8 percent), New York (77.2 percent) and Chicago (70.7 percent) by targeting ZIP codes that have low immunization rates. A mobile vaccination van provided immunization at places such as Mondawmin Mall, community centers and churches. The program began in 2001.

"They were very innovative - didn't just sit and go on television with some public service announcements," Cummings said. "They actually got into the neighborhoods.

"Sometimes parents have very busy schedules, and sometimes you don't have parents that have the wherewithal. So when you have that, you have to go the extra mile," Cummings said.

The vaccines protect children against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps, hepatitis B and other diseases. Free vaccinations are given regardless of whether the parents have insurance.

"We want to immunize the children, then plug them into a doctor," Sharfstein said.


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