Background. The National Immunization Survey demonstrates that national immunization coverage in 2002 remained near the all-time highs achieved in 2000. However, that survey cannot detect whether coverage is uniformly high within relatively small areas or populations. The measles resurgence in the early 1990s revealed that coverage was low in some areas, particularly among inner-city children from racial and ethnic minority groups. Today, identifying areas with low childhood-vaccination coverage remains important, particularly if these areas are at risk for the introduction of disease. In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a congressionally mandated demonstrated project now called the Childhood Immunization Demonstration project of Community Health Networks. This mandate specified an assessment to determine whether a network of primary care providers affiliated with university teaching hospitals could assume a public health responsibility for raising immunization levels among preschoolers in medically underserved communities. Communities with federally designated health professional shortage areas were invited to submit proposals, and 4 were selected: Detroit, MI, New York, NY, San Diego, CA, and rural Colorado.

Objectives. To measure immunization coverage among preschool children in the 4 selected medically underserved areas and determine predictors of coverage levels.

Design and Setting. Surveys in the 4 areas were based on stratified cluster probability sample designs in which clusters of dwelling units were selected and all households in selected clusters were screened for the presence of children aged 12 to 35 months. Immunization histories were obtained from parents and providers for these children. For each age-eligible child, the information collected on utilization of immunization health services included a listing of all clinics or offices ever used for the child’s well-child care and/or for obtaining immunizations. Information was also collected on whether the child currently had health insurance (public and/or private) and whether the child had a medical home. A child was classified as having a medical home if the survey respondent reported a source of well care that was the same as the source of sick care and that this place was not an emergency department.

Participants. Children 12 to 35 months of age in Detroit, New York, San Diego, and rural Colorado.

Outcome Measure. Community-wide up-to-date (UTD) immunization coverage levels at 19 to 35 months of age, defined as receipt of 4 doses of diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis vaccine, 3 doses of poliovirus vaccine, 1 dose of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, 3 doses of Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine, and 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine (the 4:3:1:3:3 series).

Analysis. We examined the association between coverage level and independent variables and performed χ2 and t tests to determine whether differences observed within and between groups and sites were significant.

Results. The overall response rate for eligible children ranged from 79.4% to 88.1%. Coverage levels for most individual vaccines were >90% in all sites except Detroit. Coverage for the 4:3:1:3:3 series was significantly higher for children in New York (84%) and San Diego (86%) than for children in Detroit (66%) and rural Colorado (75%). Demographic risk factors related to UTD immunization status varied by site. Although differences in coverage levels by ethnicity varied by site, differences were not significant. In Colorado and New York, coverage was slightly lower among Hispanic than white children (71% vs 76% and 83% vs 91%, respectively). In San Diego, coverage was lower among whites, compared with Hispanics (76% vs 85%). Coverage was also lower for African American than white children only in New York (75% vs 91%). However, in San Diego and Colorado, children receiving their vaccinations from private providers had lower coverage levels than children receiving their vaccinations from other providers (78% vs 91% and 71% vs 57%, respectively). In all 4 sites, children for whom respondents reported having an immunization card at the time of the interview were more likely to have higher series coverage levels than children for whom a parent-held card was not available. Also, children who were UTD at 3 months of age had significantly higher vaccination-series coverage levels than children who were not UTD at 3 months of age. In addition, the vaccination coverage was lower for children in Detroit whose parents reported problems accessing the health care system because lack of transportation (46%), compared with those who did not report such problems (65%); however, this difference did not reach significance (χ2 = 6.0). In Colorado, the small proportion of children in families without a phone had a lower vaccination coverage level (58%) than those in households with a phone (75%) (χ2 = 6.3). In all sites, children who were UTD at 3 months of age and had a parent-held vaccination card were more likely to be UTD at 19 to 35 months of age.

Conclusions. Preschoolers in these medically underserved areas were not at uniform risk for underimmunization. Because they were designated as health professional shortage areas, the 4 sites in this study were expected to have low immunization-coverage rates. However, this was not the case. In fact, coverage in 3 of the 4 areas was quite high compared with US national figures (73%); only Detroit had a much lower UTD rate (66%). Efforts are needed to improve methods to identify areas with low immunization coverage so that resources can be directed to places where interventions are needed. Our results reveal that an area’s need for childhood immunization interventions is not well predicted by a low number of providers per capita. Other criteria must be developed to predict areas or populations with low immunization coverage. Understanding more about the characteristics of children/provider pairs for children who are UTD at 3 months and more about the role of parental hand-held cards, along with finding strategies to improve immunization delivery by providers in Vaccines for Children Program facilities, suggest potentially productive avenues for increasing and sustaining high coverage levels.

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