Children across the state will begin the new school year on a healthy note, following a three-day mass vaccination exercise designed to bring school-aged children up to date on their required immunizations.

The Department of Health and Hospitals-Office of Public Health offered parents the opportunity to get no-cost vaccinations for their children at parish health units and partner clinics throughout the state on Aug. 4, 5 and 6. Over the three days, public health workers administered 17,000 immunizations to nearly 10,000 children. Based on the success of the drill, health units across the state will continue to offer no-cost vaccinations through the end of August.

This is the third year LDH has offered this program to coincide with back-to-school time. In August 2003, public health workers vaccinated 11,846 children in three days and in 2004, there were 13,000 children immunized.

LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise said the fact that fewer children were vaccinated during this year’s drill is a good sign because it indicates the state is becoming more effective at getting children immunized on time.

“In response to Louisiana’s low immunization rankings and on recommendations from the Governor’s Health Care Reform Panel, last year we developed an aggressive strategy to improve our immunization rates,” Cerise said. “The annual back-to-school drill and an Infant Immunization Week we conducted in April, along with increased outreach, flexible hours at our parish health units and entering all children into our statewide vaccination monitoring system are resulting in more children getting their vaccinations at the right time.”

Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that Louisiana is ranked 46th for childhood immunization rates. Cerise said LDH will continue working to boost the state’s ranking. 

“For every dollar we spend on childhood vaccines, we will save $10 treating serious diseases later in life,” Dr. Cerise said. “We will continue working to make our parish health units accessible for immunizations and enforcing the message that having your child vaccinated is one of the best preventive health care steps you can take.”

The Back-to-School immunization exercise was paid for with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase the level of biopreparedness and emergency response in Louisiana. The National Immunization Program also served as a sponsor of this event, providing the funds to purchase vaccines in state.