State health board approves new vaccine

DENVER (AP) - Children younger than 2 soon will have to get the pneumococcal vaccine before they can enter preschool under a proposal approved by the Colorado State Board of Health Wednesday.

The requirement will go into effect for all children entering child care centers beginning July 1, 2002, said Dr. Richard Hoffman, chief medical officer of Colorado. Only those with personal, medical or religious exemptions will be excused.

"This is a very good vaccine and a very severe disease," said Hoffman, who recommended the proposal with other officials at the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

The vaccine protects against pneumococcal invasive disease, which can cause blood poisoning and a form of bacterial meningitis. It can be fatal in some cases.

Hoffman said the highest incidence of the disease occurs among young children because it spreads easily, often through contact with saliva.

There were 53 cases of the disease in children younger than 2 in the Denver area in six months last year, Hoffman said. He could not provide statewide figures.

Critics of the plan argue the vaccine costs about three times more than other shots and has potential side effects.

The vaccine is typically doled out in four doses, depending on when the child gets the first shot. Hoffman said the government rate for one dose is about $46.

Health plans usually cover the cost, but some critics worry there won't be enough federal money to cover those on Medicaid or the uninsured.

Hoffman said there is a federal program that pays for the vaccine for children in poor families.

Potential side effects of the vaccine include swelling and low-grade viral infections.

Colorado is believed to be the first state to require the immunization for preschool children younger than 2 but the U.S. Public Health Service made a similar recommendation in October, Hoffman said.

Also on Wednesday, the Board of Health rejected a proposal to require preschoolers to have Hepatitis A vaccine, Hoffman said.

He said critics argued that requiring the pneumococcal vaccine was a greater priority because the disease is more severe than Hepatitis A.

State health officials plan to continue to monitor Hepatitis A in Colorado. Hoffman said it is possible there will be another proposal later to require the vaccine.

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