Improving Childhood Immunization Rates

Childhood immunizations play an important role in maintaining healthy children. But in urban areas, circumstances often prevent many children from being fully immunized in a timely manner. S cheduling challenges for working and single parents, changing or lapsed insurance coverage, frequent vaccine shortages and prioritizing limited financial resources all play a role in determining whether a child receives up to 20 vaccinations against 11 serious infectious diseases before age 3 . A measles outbreak in Newark in the early 1990s brought the issue to the forefront of public health initiatives, and a coalition of community organizations joined together to ensure timely, age-appropriate immunizations for all children in Newark.

Project Vaccinate, established in 1998 with grant money from the Centers for Disease Control, brings together New Jersey Medical School , the Newark Department of Health and Human Services and community-based organizations to educate the public concerning the importance of timely immunizations . Peter Wenger, MD, associate professor, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, serves as medical director . He divides his time between community outreach � speaking before various community groups about the importance of timely immunizations- and professional training for healthcare providers, particularly for front line staff who direct clients to places to receive immunizations.

The premise is simpl: connect with families in locations where they are already receiving services to improve on-time vaccination rates . For example, many women visit the WIC (Women, Infants , and Children) center on the Newark campus of New Jersey Medical School to obtain food vouchers. Project Vaccinate staff in these types of locations are trained to inquire about the immunization status of clients' children and to provide appropriate information in response.

As a result of this coalition, immunization rates for Newark children increased 25 percent between 2001 and 2004 . But as Dr. Wenger points out, new children are born to Newark residents every day, underscoring the programs' continued importance .

"We are working in a constantly changing environment," Dr. Wenger explains . "While a simple solution to eradicating the health disparities that impact on-time vaccination may not exist, the value of Project Vaccinate lies in the fact that we now possess an inherent understanding of the challenges of urban living and its impact on public health . Having an infrastructure in place that takes those issues into account will pave the way for a healthier future for children."