photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Public Health  

Vaccines protect everyone Measles, polio, diphtheria. These once-deadly diseases are now preventable through vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a record 79.4 percent of American children received their full complement of recommended vaccines in 2003, up from 74.8 percent in 2002.

Immunization rates are improving in Chicago as well-up 7 percent, to 76 percent. That's good news. Unless you look at the flip side. First, the rate includes a 7 percent margin of error, which means it's possible as few as 69 percent of Chicago children have been fully vaccinated. Second, the city's rate still is below the national average. And third, if three out of four children are fully vaccinated, one out of four is not.

We understand vaccines remain controversial in some circles. But we side with the doctors: This is a public health issue that protects us all.

"Immunizations are victims [of] their own success," says Dr. Julie Morita of the Immunization Program at the Chicago Department of Public Health. "People forget they are serious diseases."

In fact, 12 infants died and hundreds more were hospitalized in a Chicago measles epidemic as recently as 1989. The outbreak could have been prevented if the children had been vaccinated.

What's to be done? The answer, we believe, comes in three parts: government action, parental responsibility and physician accountability.

First, the government. Both federal and city governments have programs to reach people without access to vaccinations. One we particularly like is Vaccines for Children, a federal program that works in conjunction with WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It offers an advance supply of food vouchers to families whose children are immunized, but there isn't enough money to make the program available at all WIC locations.

The need to immunize all children is too important. Government officials need to find the resources necessary to expand this program.

Now, we parents. Many children who have received a full complement of vaccines are merely missing one shot. But that still leaves them susceptible to disease. It's especially true for the DTaP series, a four-dose vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis-which has given us a blip in the number of pertussis, or whooping cough, cases reported in the northwest suburbs.

School immunization requirements are just a safety net. The time before children enter school worries medical experts, since these preventable diseases can be deadly in younger children.

To be fully immunized, a baby should have 22 doses of vaccines before age 2, according to the CDC. (See Healthy Child, page 28, for more on infant immunizations.)

Luckily, there are many ways to keep children up to date.

This is where doctors come in. All physicians should provide to parents immunization cards listing the required vaccinations. Some pediatricians are implementing recall and reminder systems to help track children and remind both parents and physicians when children are due for an immunization. The system involves calling families or sending postcards to notify parents when the child is due for an immunization.

An even better idea is one that involves a statewide registry to keep track of children's medical history-this is particularly important in low-income communities where families are less likely to have a family physician or regular pediatrician.

Vaccinations are a critical public health issue. Government, parents and pediatricians need to work together to solve this solvable problem.

Breastfeeding now a right We've been beating the drum for breastfeeding for years, so we can't miss a chance to offer a big pat on the back to Gov. Blagojevich and the Illinois State Legislature. The Legislature passed and the governor has signed a new state law, the Right to Breastfeed Act.

In May, we wrote about LaGrange mom Kasey Madden and her battle to make breastfeeding safe for mothers everywhere. Illinois moms now join mothers in 25 other states who have the right to breastfeed their babies anywhere.

This is more than just a moral victory. It's an important step on the road to encouraging more moms to breastfeed their babies longer. We know it's better for babies. We're glad to know that now it's also easier for mothers.

Kids Eat Chicago

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