by Corliss Hill
At first glance, the numbers are dispiriting: African-Americans have 2.3-times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic White Americans. They are four-times as likely to die of complications related to low birth weight as Caucasian infants.
These statistics from the Office of Minority Health paint a bleak picture, one that is further reinforced by the fact that African-American mothers are 2.6-times more likely than Caucasian mothers to begin prenatal care late or not at all.
With that in mind, it’s time for a dose of encouragement. Let the change begin in now.
What do infant mortality and immunization have in common? A lot, in fact. Neonatal care begins well before a baby is born and helps to ensure that an infant is born healthy. Immunization begins during a baby’s first months and ensures that a child remains healthy. Failure to receive either effective neonatal care or early immunization can go a long way toward contributing to infant and early-childhood mortality.
Sadly, African-Americans with lower incomes lag behind when it comes to immunization as well. A recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Immunization found that only 73.9 percent of African-American children received a complete series of recommended vaccinations compared with 77.4 percent of Hispanic children and 77.9 percent of Caucasian children.
The CDC explained the disparity this way: Children who live below the poverty level are less likely to be vaccinated than children who live at or above the poverty level. Because a substantial percentage of Black children live below the poverty level, coverage for Black children overall is low compared with White children.
The CDC’s recommended immunization schedule for children aged birth through six years suggests timely vaccination against hepatitis A and B, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, polio, measles-mumps-rubella and other potentially serious or deadly diseases is essential. The schedule, which all parents should study, may be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules.
Additionally, UnitedHealthcare’s “Source4Women” Web site (www.uhc.com/source4women) offers guidelines on childhood immunizations as well, and your local library can help you investigate important vaccination information and schedules.
To encourage increased immunization compliance, the CDC highlights several programs at www.cdc.gov. These include Immunization Information Systems, which consolidates immunization information in one location while identifying populations at high risk for vaccine-preventable diseases and targeting interventions; Vaccines for Children, which provides free vaccines to doctors who serve eligible children; and Immunization Program Evaluation, which explores whether immunization activities are implemented as planned and outcomes have occurred as intended, thus shaping effective immunization programs.
Also important is the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (www.hmhb.org), which promotes efforts to encourage greater acceptance and use of immunization. The organization is committed to building partnerships at the local, state and national levels and increasing knowledge and understanding of immunization needs and practices among health care providers as well as the general public.
Clearly, immunization is among the most significant public health achievements ever. Through the years vaccines have eradicated smallpox, virtually eliminated wild poliovirus in the U.S., and significantly reduced the number of reported cases of measles and other diseases. It is one of the most effective means available to protect children and adults from many common infectious diseases. At the same time, keeping children healthier by immunizing lowers the associated social and financial costs for families, including time lost from school and work and the cost of medical bills.
Although regular and timely immunization can be slightly inconvenient, such inconvenience pales compared with the health challenges that will arise if your child develops a serious disease that might have been prevented. Timely neonatal care also is essential to ensure that a baby is born healthy and gets a good start in life. If you aren’t receiving proper neonatal care, begin today. If you’re children are not in full compliance with their immunizations, begin to correct that today. As our own parents said when we were young and receiving vaccinations, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
(Corliss Hill is national director of UnitedHealthcare’s Generations of Wellness.)