WALLA WALLA — For the first time, parents in Washington state are doing better at immunizing their children than most moms and dads in the nation, according to health officials.
And Walla Walla parents may be even more ahead of the curve.
Vaccination rates for Washington toddlers continue to improve, noted Dr. Maxine Hayes, a pediatrician with the state Department of Health — 75 percent of children age 3 or younger got a series of recommended vaccines in 2011.
That’s up from 71 percent in 2010, according to the National Immunization Survey, and above the national average of 74 percent.
The national information is not broken down by county, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department. However, he can say about five percent of kids entering kindergarten in area schools are not immunized, “for a variety of reasons … And that presents a risk to themselves or others.”
Part of that number may come simply from local health providers not supplying the appropriate information to the state, Crowder said. “Overall we’re in pretty good shape, but we could be better.”
“We know that parents want to make sure their kids are safe and healthy,” Hayes said. “There are so many tragic diseases that can be prevented by making sure children get recommended vaccines. It’s one of the most important things a parent can do to protect their children, families and communities from serious preventable diseases.”
This year’s epidemic of whooping cough in the state underlines the message. Immunization rates for children through age 6 increased from 82 to 86 percent. The national average is 85 percent. While not statistically significant, it’s an encouraging sign that rates are moving in the right direction, officials said.
“The whooping cough epidemic is still with us and getting vaccinated is the best protection,” Hayes said. “Whooping cough can be life-threatening for young babies. It’s crucial that we protect babies and make sure that family members and caregivers are vaccinated.”
Nearly 4,000 cases of whooping cough in Washington state have been reported so far in 2012, more than 10 times the number reported during the same time period in 2011.
This year there have been 270 reported cases in infants; 53 of them were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported in the state in 2012.
The national survey measures a series of six vaccines, some requiring multiple doses. Kids must have all doses to be included in the rate. For those immunizations, estimates increased for chickenpox, DTaP, and pneumococcal vaccines, driving the overall increase.
Despite the improved rate, Washington is still behind the state and national goal of 80 percent for the series, Hayes said.
Data used also included rates for individual vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella, and chickenpox vaccines. The goal for each individual vaccine is 90 percent, and Washington residents met this goal only for the polio vaccine.
Kids must be vaccinated on time for the best protection and missing or delaying even one vaccine leaves kids at risk, officials said. The state health department provides information about immunizations for families and health care providers, Hayes pointed out.
Through health care providers, the state Department of Health provides all recommended vaccines for children through age 18. Providers may charge an office visit and a fee to give the vaccine, but those who can’t afford the administration cost can ask to have it waived.
For more information or to find a local vaccine provider call 524-2650.