AVON, Ind. (AP) -- Indiana and national health officials launched a campaign Wednesday to ramp up infant vaccinations in the wake of recent whooping cough and other disease outbreaks.
State Health Com-missioner William VanNess and a Centers Disease Control and Prevention official announced the initiative at Indiana University Health West in Avon during National Infant Immunization Week, which runs through May 3.
While Indiana is third in the nation for adolescent tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines and meningococcal vaccines, the state falls in the bottom half for on-time infant immunizations at only 61 percent for children age 19-35 months, health department spokeswoman Amy Reel said.
"Today we take for granted the low disease rates that we have," said Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases and assistant surgeon general. "But diseases are still all around the world."
VanNess will send a congratulatory card with a vaccine checklist to parents of every newborn in Indiana as part of a statewide push for higher rates of on-time infant vaccination. Hallmark funds the greeting cards, which first were used in Missouri and Kansas almost two decades ago.
VanNess said parents sometimes wait until their children are about to enter school, where vaccinations are required for entry.
That could mean putting children at risk for the months or weeks before they get the shots, he said.
"We were going to do it regardless," said Craig Monnett of Brownsburg, who along with his wife Amy received the first congratulatory card for their 4-month-old son Liam during Wednesday's announcement. "It was never a question."
But some parents fear vaccinations could lead to autism -- which VanNess disputes -- and never vaccinate their children.
Indiana excuses vaccine requirements if parents cite a religious or medical concern.
Only about 1 percent of children nationwide are not vaccinated, but Schuchat said communities with higher rates of unvaccinated children have a greater risk of outbreaks of diseases that have been virtually eliminated in the country. Indiana ranks comparably to national rates for nonmedical vaccine exemptions, but four states including Michigan have exemption rates higher than 5 percent.
Officials warn that could mean greater risk of catching diseases that could be prevented with vaccination.
For example, the CDC classified measles as virtually eradicated in 2000, but this year brought the highest number of cases so far in the year since 1996. Diseases often are contracted outside of the United States and brought in state, Schuchat said. One case of whooping cough was reported in a Carmel elementary school in March, and the Marion County Public Health Department announced this week that visitors to a Teavana tea shop in Indianapolis could have been exposed to Hepatitis A.
Reel said outbreaks of whooping cough, measles, mumps and chicken pox have hit the state in recent years.
Schuchat said parents who never saw measles or other now-preventable diseases in action might not realize their dangers, and diagnosing the diseases can be difficult because fewer doctors have been exposed to them.
VanNess said getting children vaccinated in time can save lives.
"These outbreaks really do not need to happen," VanNess said. "They are preventable."