Baton Rouge -- The Louisiana Department of Health today announced a two-year strategy to improve the state’s childhood immunization rates. The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show Louisiana ranking 49th for this important indicator of childhood health.

According to Dr. Fred Cerise, LDH secretary, over the past year, Louisiana improved its percentage of fully immunized children from 68 percent to 70 percent, but because other states improved more, the state’s ranking dropped from 47th to next to last.

“The CDC reports that immunization rates are at an all-time high, yet we continue to lose ground in Louisiana,” he said. “In response, we have developed a five-point plan to boost our rates to the national average in two years.”

Cerise said the LDH five-point strategy will include encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated earlier, promote multiple vaccinations, increase education and monitoring of providers, encourage greater use of technology and reduce bureaucracy.

  • Shots for Tots by 1 – National guidelines call for infants to be fully immunized by the age of two. In an effort to get parents and health care providers to put a greater emphasis on early childhood vaccinations, LDH will revise its guidelines to promote full vaccination by the child’s first birthday.
  • Multiple Vaccines – In most instances, immunization schedules call for one vaccination at a time, with the coverage for the 4:3:1:3:3 series (four doses of Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis, (DTaP), three doses of polio vaccine, one dose of measles-containing vaccine, three doses of Hib vaccine, and three doses of hepatitis B vaccine) spread out over a two-year period. Because medical evidence shows there is no harm in providing several shots at once, LDH will begin educating providers and parents to use the multiple shot approach.
  • Louisiana Immunization Network for Kids Statewide (LINKS) – LINKS is an automated system used to track all childhood immunizations. The system can prompt health officials when an individual is due for his or her next vaccination. Currently, LINKS is in use in about half of all doctors’ offices who provide immunizations. LDH will aggressively work to ensure that more providers have access to and are using this system. LINKS will also allow the state to target families whose children are not up-to-date on their shots, and issue automated reminders. This will be done quarterly beginning this fall, and accelerate to monthly over the next year.
  • Physicians Education and Partnership – LDH has partnered with the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to assist the state in its effort to educate doctors about multiple vaccines, use of the LINKS system and the accelerated schedule of shots. LDH will also remove the physician referral requirement in its CommunityCARE program. This will make it easier for families to go to the pediatrician for their child’s shots.
  • More Immunization Specialists – LDH currently employs one immunization specialist in each of its nine regions. The Office of Public Health will request funding from the CDC to add an additional expert in each region who will work directly with area doctors.

In addition to the five-point strategy, LDH will hold a special three-day immunization drive next week. This is DHH’s second annual no-cost, statewide immunization effort. This concentrated effort is set to begin Thursday, August 5 and will continue through Saturday, August 7, in parish health units across the state, as well as in partner clinics in some areas of the state. While children are the primary focus of the program, older children or adults also may get any necessary immunizations such as tetanus shots or other important immunizations.

According to Sharon Howard, assistant secretary for DHH’s Office of Public Health, the challenge for Louisiana is to convince private physicians of the importance of vaccinating children early.

“Today, about 60 percent of all childhood vaccinations are done by doctors in private practice. The remaining 40 percent are given in clinics operated by our Office of Public Health,” Howard explained. “This is why it is so critical that we maximize the use of the LINKS systems, educate physicians and more closely monitor and track immunization records.”

Cerise said that Gov. Blanco made childhood immunization rates a key component of her campaign, and she is in agreement about DHH’s aggressive strategy.

“Gov. Blanco understands the importance of preventive medicine, and has issued us the challenge of making immediate changes to improve immunization rates, he added. “I am confident that our strategy will soon result in Louisiana having vastly improved immunization rates.”