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Agency targets Dade for immunization efforts

The federal Centers for Disease Control has targeted Dade County for an intensive immunization effort, saying too many poor children lack protection against potentially life-threatening diseases such as measles, pertussis and mumps. The effortwill be coordinated by the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and a coalition of community and business leaders. It is part of a national campaign to "influence the American conscience as well as national leaders about the scandal of low immunization rates, especially among preschoolers," said Dr. Eleni Sfakianaki, medical director of Dade's public health units.

According to a May report by the Florida Study Commission on Child Welfare, more Dade County kindergarteners were without proper immunization in 1989-90 than in any other county in the state.

The report said 95 percent of kindergarteners statewide were fully immunized, although in Dade County only 85 percent had been fully vaccinated.

Nearly half the county's high-risk infants _ more than 2,000 children under 7 months who are born to teen-agers or mothers who had little or no prenatal care _ had no known immunizations, the commission reported.

"It's heartbreaking to see information like this," said Chris Giblin, staff director of the commission. "It's extremely troubling, particularly because of the great number of devastating illnesses that are preventable with a single shot."

The state immunization office reports that diseases on the decline five years ago _ such as pertussis, also known as whooping cough _ are increasing among the state's infants and other children. It's a symptom of Florida's growing inability to reach children through immunization and provide preventive and primary medical care to those who need it most.

In 1989, Dade County reported 32 pertussis cases, 34 percent of the state total and more than any other county. Seventeen of those cases were in babies less than 1 year old.

"And pertussis is a dangerous disease in young children," said David Nelson of HRS' immunization program office in Tallahassee. "One of the problems with pertussis is a terrible cough, and people with that kind of cough can have spasms that cause a lack of oxygen to the brain.

"It's a lot more effective to spend money now and keep the rates down than to have to pay for hospitalization later."