Valley immunization efforts defended Health: Texas ranked last by CDC. - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Valley immunization efforts defended Health: Texas ranked last by CDC.

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Posted: Friday, August 3, 2001 12:00 am

By STEVE TAYLOR

The Brownsville Herald

AUSTIN A Rio Grande Valley-based vaccine coordinator says her efforts to get

life-saving shots to at-risk toddlers are working well, even though a new

survey ranks Texas last in the nation for immunizations.

Ivetta Nunez, Texas Department of Health immunization program manager for the

Valley region, says the Lone Star Project that involved National Guard and

U.S. Army and Navy reserves helping get the vaccination message to communities

in Elsa, Edcouch, Edinburg and La Joya in July was an example of that success.

Nationwide, Texas ranks bottom in immunization of children aged 19 through 35

months against seven communicable diseases, according to a survey set to be

released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worse,

Texas rate has dropped from 74.4 percent in 1999 to 69.5 percent in 2000.

The results of this survey should act as a wake-up call for Texas, said

state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who filed the 1993 legislation that

started the free Shots Across Texas immunization program. Sometimes people

get complacent and while the percentage decline in immunizations is bad for

Texas, and particularly the border region, it might wake us up that we have

more work to do.

The federal survey did not look at different regions within Texas. The Texas

Department of Health, also, has no statistical breakdown on whether

immunization rates have slipped along the border region.

Harlingen-based Nunez, whose area of responsibility extends from Brownsville

to Laredo, says she believes the situation is improving in South Texas.

We are working closely with private health providers to get the message out

that parents do not have to go to their local health department. They do not

have to be referred. The Shots Across Texas program and our Lone Star Project

in July, with help from the military, shows we are getting the message out.

One area Nunez would like to see improved is immunization tracking. Parents

need to keep their records in a safe place because it is difficult to keep

accurate information if the records are misplaced, she said.

At present, parents have to opt-in to a TDH immunization-tracking system.

State Sen. Mike Moncrief, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services

Committee, failed to win support for a bill filed during the 77th legislative

session that would have put the onus on parents to opt-out. Critics argued

it was an invasion of privacy.

The figures are a national embarrassment for Texas and prove we need a much

better tracking record. Its incredible that we cannot track our immunization

record along the border, said Moncrief, D-Fort Worth. It only takes one

major outbreak of these deadly diseases to cause devastation to hundreds of

children.

The federal survey, conducted by telephone between January and December 2000,

covered 30,000 children in all 50 states and in 28 specific metropolitan

areas. The national immunization rate for 2000 was 77.6 percent, down from

79.9 percent the previous year.

Four Texas communities were among the 28 metropolitan areas surveyed. Only one

Texas border region was surveyed, with El Pasos immunization rate now at 71.5

percent, down from 75 percent in 1999.

The percentages are based on the 4:3:1 vaccine series, which includes four

doses of diphtheria-tetanuz-acellular pertussis (DtaP) vaccine, three doses of

polio vaccine and one dose of measles-mumphs-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

We are, of course, concerned that about a third of Texas young children are

not fully protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, said Dr. Sharilyn

Stanley, associate commissioner for disease control and prevention at TDH.

Raising immunization levels will take a collaborative effort that includes

parents, providers, school, businesses, local and state government.

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