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Gov. Scott to send new baby congratulations — and vaccine reminders

If you bring someone kicking and screaming into Florida, expect a nice note from Gov. Rick Scott and wife Ann.

"Congratulations on the birth of your new baby!" says a greeting card signed by the Scotts. "As you grow together in family and community, we encourage you to build your baby's healthy imagination through reading and your baby's healthy life through immunizations."

The Governor's Office is teaming up with Hallmark on the card company's For America's Babies program, a partnership with more than two dozen state governors to remind new parents to have their children immunized.

The state leaders send the cards to hospitals, which distribute them to new parents once birth records are completed. The card includes a detachable growth chart and an immunization schedule reflecting the most recent vaccine recommendations for young children by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Florida, the Department of Health will soon ship three-month supplies of the cards to hospitals. The cards are printed in English and Spanish.

The state is budgeting up to $10,000 for distribution, said spokeswoman Hue T. Reynolds. Hallmark pays for the printing.

"We thought this was a nice opportunity to get in front of parents," said Reynolds.

In 2011, more than 213,200 live births were reported in Florida. Reynolds said it's unclear how long the program will last.

At St. Joseph's Women's Hospital in Tampa, which delivers about 7,000 babies a year, staffers just received the letter announcing the program and are planning how to carry it out, said spokeswoman Lisa Patterson.

Vaccinations protect children from a variety of serious diseases, including diphtheria, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus and whooping cough. Some parents still are wary of the shots, though their safety and effectiveness are well documented. Others want to vary the recommended vaccination schedule, though there is no evidence that it is better to delay inoculations.

Compared with other states, Florida children rank high in vaccine rates, according to the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit public health organization.

Florida was ranked second in 2010 in the percentage of children ages 19 to 35 months up-to-date on immunizations, about 80 percent, according to the group.

Even more children at Head Start facilities — 97 percent of those ages 19 months and up — are fully immunized, according to a state survey of 119 locations last year.

Richard Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, cites misinformation, lack of education and poverty as the reasons even more children are not fully immunized.

"The problem is that we've seen some outbreaks of infectious diseases we thought we would no longer see. Whooping cough is one," he said. "It's kind of a crying shame when you're able to prevent or eradicate diseases, and that's not happening."

He said the new federal health law should help by eliminating insurance copays on vaccinations. He hadn't heard about the Hallmark partnership with governors but said it sounds helpful.

"That sounds like a way to communicate both at the right time and with the right messenger," he said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com.

Gov. Scott to send new baby congratulations — and vaccine reminders 01/24/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 12:14am]
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