January 7, 2011 / 9:03 PM / 9 years ago

Tennessee tops states in child immunization rate

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Tennessee, a state best known for country music, is first in the nation in providing early childhood immunizations, according to a national health ranking report.

“No child should suffer from something that is preventable,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, medical director for the Tennessee Immunization Program, in an interview on Thursday.

America’s Health Rankings put Tennessee first for 2010 for immunizing children ages 19-35 months.

AHR looked at four vaccines for its rankings: polio; the DtaP vaccine against diptheria, tetanus and pertussis; the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, and the hepatitis B vaccine. Tennessee had 94.1 percent coverage, just ahead of Connecticut.

Arkansas ranked last, with 83.7 percent coverage, AHR reported.

Moore said fighting bad information, like studies by a now-disgraced British doctor who linked vaccines with autism, is a major hurdle in getting children vaccinated.

“Parents need to know that they are not putting their children at risk because of vaccinations,” said Moore. “No parent of an autistic child should be burdened with that kind of guilt.”

The British Medical Journal said on Wednesday that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who published the autism studies, committed an “elaborate fraud” by faking data.

Moore said Tennessee is a national leader in vaccine storage, and that the program has grown its immunization staff to 19 from 4 in the last five years. The program also shifted its focus from administration to proactive education, including running immunization training and clinics for health-care providers across the state. The program works with other states and the Centers for Disease Control to share Tennessee’s methods.

America’s Health Ranking used a different methodology this year, so this year’s numbers cannot be directly compared with prior year’s. But using the same methodology to look at past years, Tennessee has shown a steady improvement, from 3rd in 2005 to 16th in 2008 to first in 2010, Moore said.

Tennessee ranks 2nd overall in health by AH, which cited its high violent crime rate and high prevalence of obesity.

Writing by Tim Ghianni, with reporting by Maggie Fox. Editing by Mary Wisneiwski and Greg McCune

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