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Franklin County Immunizations Highest In U.S.

City and county health officials say Project LOVE has made a tremendous difference. When the "Love Our Kids Vaccinate Early!" campaign was started in 1993, only 40% of the children in Franklin County had the appropriate vaccinations by age 2. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Columbus - Franklin County area leads the nation in immunizations for the second consecutive year. Officials celebrated the news at the Columbus Health Department yesterday.

While babies were being vaccinated at the Columbus Health Department downstairs, officials in the upstairs auditorium were celebrating an immunization rate of 80.5% percent which earned the city, according to Mayor Coleman, recognition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Because of our extraordinary accomplishments, in achieving 80.5% coverage, this represents the highest rate of any urban area in the nation. We're number one again." Coleman said.

Coleman says that's quite an accomplishment since the immunization rate for small children was about 40% in 1993. Now local health officials want to raise the number of childhood vaccinations from 80% to 90% by the year 2010. They plan to develop a strategy to reach that goal this summer with an immunization summit which will include federal health officials. Dr. Teresa Long is the Columbus Public Health Commissioner.

"It's the dilemma that's facing the rest of America. So they're very interested on working with us about how we reach these pockets of vulnerability, of need or opportunity, and how to we change how we work with parents, the social and health service providers that work with them, to move from low or moderate immunization to high levels of immunization," Long says.

The department already has a general idea where immunization rates are low. Inner city neighborhoods in the 43222 zip code had the lowest rate at 40%. Long says the summit will study ways to break down barriers to make children's health care more attainable and consistent.

"The barriers have to do with both parents and providers understanding and valuing the importance. It has to do with the ability to couple a visit to a family physician or a clinic with the vaccine. And I think we know that many of the families that we're speaking of have lots of challenges. So having these children be in ongoing primary medical care is probably one of the most important goals that we as a community could achieve."

City councilwoman Charleta Tavares says she wants to insure that the 17,000 children born in Franklin County every year are immunized. Columbus physician Gus Parker says childhood vaccinations are the foundation for a healthy start in life.