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HEALTH FAIR : Their Best Shots : Free immunizations against a variety of diseases will be given to children Sunday in Simi Valley.

August 06, 1992|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Measles, mumps, meningitis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio. They are all serious, even deadly, diseases that can be prevented. But an alarming number of children have not yet been immunized against them.

That's why Simi Valley Hospital is again sponsoring the Kids Care Fair on Sunday at Mountain Gate Plaza Mall. Free immunizations will be provided for these diseases, as well as the deadly hemophilus influenza.

The fair will run from noon to 4 p.m. Children up to 18 years old also can undergo free examinations to detect other health problems related to speech, hearing, vision, feet and back, to name a few. This is one of 30 fairs of its kind to be held all over Southern California this weekend. Simi Valley is the only Ventura County site.

These fairs were introduced in 1990 because increasing numbers of children in California did not have health insurance and could not afford minimal health care, according to Children Now, a California children's advocacy group and fair sponsor. The number of uninsured children in the state has increased 41% in the last decade, and now one in four children has no health insurance, the group reported.

As a result, children are not getting the immunizations they need. In 1990, more than half of California's 2-year-olds were not immunized for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, the group said.

That floors Simi Valley pediatrician Linda Tigner-Weekes, who assisted at the fair last year when about 300 free immunizations were provided to children under 6. In all, 700 parents and children attended.

Dr. Tigner-Weekes, who trained and still teaches in Los Angeles, said she has seen children die of such preventable diseases as measles, tetanus, meningitis and whooping cough.

"I just shake my head in disbelief," she said.

Since 1990, there have been 14,588 measles cases reported in California, according to Children Now. About 40% of those cases were contracted by young children, who also suffered the majority of the deaths from the disease.

Last year in Ventura County, 23 cases of measles, 27 cases of mumps, three cases of whooping cough and two cases of meningitis were reported to county health officials. So far this year, the numbers are less.

So why don't parents get their children immunized? It's a lack of education about the seriousness of the diseases, said Tigner-Weekes. And many just cannot afford it. They don't know that low-income children can get immunizations through the county's Public Health Department for no more than $5.

A shot might run $35 to $40 at a doctor's office, and combined with an office visit, the cost could be $100, said Tigner-Weekes. Health insurance often doesn't cover preventive care such as shots, which was the case for many who attended last year's fair, she said.

"That's a big beef with most pediatricians," she said. It makes little sense, she said, when a bout of meningitis and a two-week hospital stay can cost $50,000.

California law requires that all children entering school must have up-to-date immunizations, but they should be given long before a child is 5 or 6 years old. Usually the process begins when a baby is about two months old. For many children, though, the series of shots drops off in infancy and isn't caught up with until the child is ready for school. This is the group the Kids Care Fair is targeting.

Health professionals say that often when children don't get immunizations they also don't receive basic health care. One of the goals of the fair is to help low-income families find ways to link up with long-term health care through such programs as Child Health and Disability Prevention Program (CHDP), Women Infants and Children (WIC), and Medi-Cal.

Still, this is not enough, said James Steyer, president of Children Now.

"Children have a right to quality health care, but we pay lip service to them," he said, citing California as one of the worst states in terms of children's health care.

"The measles epidemic in California was an absolute disgrace," he said. "Forty-one kids died in 1990 and 1991. It's a simple, preventable disease."

In addition to immunizations and screenings for health problems, the fair will offer some fun for youngsters. Clowns will be on hand and children can get their faces painted. Members of the Simi Valley Police Department will fingerprint children for identification purposes.

* WHERE AND WHEN

The Kids Care Fair will be held Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at Mountain Gate Plaza Mall, 1135 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley. For more information, call 583-8971.

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