updated 7/26/2005 2:29:24 PM ET 2005-07-26T18:29:24

Almost 81 percent of the nation’s toddlers are getting vaccinated on time, a record level that comes five years ahead of government expectations, federal health officials reported Tuesday.

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“That’s a tribute to the fact that parents recognize the benefits and values of these vaccines and ... are protecting their children,” said Dr. Stephen Cochi, acting vaccine chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But, “we can’t be complacent, “ he cautioned. “There is much more work to be done.”

Inoculations still lag in pockets of the country. Worst in the nation was Nevada, where 68.4 percent of youngsters got their main series of vaccinations on time last year. And fewer black and Hispanic children are up-to-date on their shots than white children.

But overall, Tuesday’s news was good, albeit expected. In 2003, 79.4 percent of the nation’s 19- to 35-month-olds had received a full series of inoculations against nine diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertusiss, polio, meningitis-causing Haemophilus influenza or HIB, measles, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B.

Last year, inoculations inched up again — to 80.9 percent of toddlers. That exceeds the government’s goal that 80 percent of toddlers get those shots on time by 2010.

In addition to that main series of shots, toddlers also are supposed to get two additional ones. Last year, 87.5 percent of toddlers had received the chickenpox vaccine and 73.2 percent had on-time doses of the pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar that protects against meningitis and ear infections.

With more toddlers than ever being protected, the CDC reminded parents that adolescents need their shots, too. Among them, a new whooping cough booster shot for teen-agers and pre-teens was approved earlier this year, to combat a return of that disease as childhood vaccine protection wanes.

That booster dose is crucial, Cochi noted, because while whooping cough seldom kills older children, it can be fatal to newborns who haven’t yet started their immunizations. Already this year, 15 infants have died from whooping cough, he said.

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