N.H. vaccination rates for toddlers among best in nation

Last modified: 8/30/2015 10:36:18 PM
Immunization rates for toddlers in New Hampshire, already among the best in the country, improved last year to greater than 80 percent, topping the national target for 2020.

“This is the critical National Immunization Survey data, the one we wait for. The exciting part is that . . . we are back up over the 2020 guideline goals,” said Marcella Bobinsky, acting director of public health, who formerly oversaw the state vaccination program.

The data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control measured vaccination rates for children aged 19 to 35 months. It covered five of vaccines that inoculate against more than a dozen diseases.

The state’s overall rate of 80.4 percent was behind only Maine – which saw its rate leap by 16 percentage points to 84 percent, perhaps because it introduced universal free vaccines for children a few years ago – and North Carolina.

Massachusetts, by contrast, had an overall vaccination rate for toddlers of 75 percent, and Vermont had a rate of 72 percent. The figures have an error range of around 5 percentage points.

New Hampshire has long had a very high vaccination rate for children and teens, partly due to the fact that it provides free vaccines for 16 diseases to any state resident under age 19.

Further, New Hampshire allows public-school parents to exempt their children from vaccinations only for medical or religious reasons, not for the more general issues often called philosophical exemptions.

Philosophical exemption has become a topic of debate in parts of the country, targeted by groups that oppose mandatory vaccination requirements. This summer, California rescinded its philosophical exemption following a much-publicized outbreak of measles related to an unvaccinated person who spread the disease while visiting Disneyland.

Bills have been floated in the New Hampshire Legislature to add a philosophical exemption but have never been approved.

The New Hampshire Immunization Program costs more than $20 million a year, much of that federal money from the CDC.

It provides the two most common vaccines – MMR for measles, mumps and rubella, and DTaP for diptheria, tetanus and pertussis or whooping cough – as well as vaccines for diseases including polio, hepatitis, flu and chicken pox. Many of these shots, but not all, are required for a child to attend a certified child-care facility or go to public school.

New Hampshire’s rate of MMR vaccination in toddlers was 93 percent and DTaP was 91 percent in 2014, both above the national 2020 guidelines.

Health-care professionals urge widespread vaccination against common diseases both to protect individuals and to create “herd immunity,” a level of coverage which prevents diseases from becoming established. Herd immunity can protect people who cannot get vaccinated, such as babies under 6 months and people with compromised immune systems, including those on chemotherapy.

Some opponents argue that modern vaccine schedules are excessive or that vaccines can be inherently dangerous, a position that health care providers say is unsupported by medical evidence.

Vaccination regimes have reduced or eliminated many diseases that plagued America as recently as a generation ago: Measles, for example, killed an average of 450 people in this country each year through 1960, when a vaccine became widely available. In the past decade it has killed just one person in the U.S. – a baby too young to be vaccinated.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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