COALITIONS want more children immunized

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Coalitions in the state's three largest metropolitan areas want to improve Oklahoma's immunization ranking.

State Health Department statistics show only 71 percent of Oklahoma's 2-year-olds have up-to-date immunizations. That is the fourth-lowest percentage in the country.

The alliances in Lawton, Oklahoma City and Tulsa want young people to have current vaccinations against measles, hepatitis, polio, whooping cough and mumps. And they say the elderly should be vaccinated this winter against influenza and pneumonia.

``Every $1 spent on vaccine saves $7 in medical costs related to vaccine-preventable diseases,'' says Karen Clifton, who heads the nonprofit Oklahoma County Immunization Coalition.

Dr. Leslie Beitsch, the state's new health commissioner, said the coalitions can make a big difference in improving the state's immunization rate.

``Sometimes, real change occurs as the result of just a few concerned people getting together to address issues affecting our children,'' he said.

Beitsch said one factor affecting Oklahoma's immunization rate is the reduction of federal assistance for vaccination programs. He also said that as families become more mobile, parents may lose immunization records.

In Tulsa, 75 agencies are involved in raising public awareness of immunizations. They have targeted 10 Tulsa ZIP codes where immunization rates have tended to be the lowest.

Tulsa Rotarians recently gave free passes to the zoo, then encouraged vaccinations by having immunization booths set up inside the zoo.

Tulsa's coalition also has sponsored a luncheon for school principals and nurses to promote school-based immunization clinics.

In Lawton, Karen Weaver of the Comanche County Immunization Coalition says many parents have never heard of many communicable diseases such as polio that are making a comeback in the United States.

``Two-year-olds are the most vulnerable to many diseases,'' she said. ``What we want is the general public talking about these health and immunization issues.''