Local health experts say they aren't surprised by reports that a growing number of schoolchildren are not fully vaccinated.

They say reasons include fears about vaccines, the increasing number of required immunizations, and a boost in the cost per shot.

A review of incomplete surveys sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 135,000 children out of about 4 million new kindergarten students last fall were exempted from vaccine requirements.

Twenty years ago, vaccines prevented seven diseases. Today, there are immunizations for 16 diseases, said Debbie Coleman, assistant health commissioner at Columbus Public Health.

The price to fully vaccinate a child in 1985 was $45. Now it's more than $1,000, she said.

"Insurance coverage has not kept pace with childhood vaccines," Coleman said. "Most policies barely cover the cost of keeping a child vaccinated and well-child care."

Each year, the federal government buys enough vaccine to inoculate more than 10 million children and subsidizes vaccination through state Medicaid programs.
Another obstacle is the fear that vaccines are harmful. Dr. Dennis Cunningham, an infectious-disease expert and medical director of epidemiology at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said this comes from people who never lived through outbreaks of mumps, measles, rubella or polio.

"If you don't vaccinate enough people in the community, the disease could come back," Cunningham said. "My fear is that we won't go back to routine vaccines until children die of diseases. There's no reason to die of a preventable disease in the U.S."

Franklin County has been praised as the best in the nation in vaccinating children. In 2004, 86.4 percent of toddlers 19 to 35 months old received full vaccinations. In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, it was 80.5 percent.

The national goal is 90 percent by 2010.

Despite Franklin County's success, several neighborhoods have vaccination rates of about 60 percent.

Susan Tilgner, Franklin County health commissioner, said these are low-income areas where parents have few health-care choices.
Coleman suggests providing more education and having states pay more for immunizations.

"It's expensive, but we need to re-look at where we put the emphasis on our health plans."



Vaccination clinics

Columbus Public Health clinic, 240 Parsons Ave.
* 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays
* 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Tuesdays
* 8 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of each month
Worthington United Methodist Church, 600 N. High St.
* 1 to 4 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month.
There's a $10 administration fee for each immunization, as well as a $15 nurse-assessment fee per visit for children.
Parents with limited incomes can call 614-645-7945 or go online at www.publichealth.columbus.gov for more information.
Franklin County Board of Health
* Immunizations at 11 sites. Call 614-462-3635 or 614-462-6674 for times and locations.
Source: Columbus Public Health