U.S. officials on Tuesday reported record high rates of childhood vaccinations in 2004, but they continue to struggle with low use of vaccines by seniors.

Just under 81 percent of children under 3 years of age received all of the government-recommended vaccinations last year, the CDC reported. That's an uptick from the 79.4 percent who got them in 2003.

Vaccination rates were higher for white children than for minorities. Eighty-five percent of whites but only 76 percent of blacks and 81.2 percent of Hispanics were fully immunized, according to CDC recommendations.

Officials said they were encouraged by increasing immunization rates among children. But they acknowledged that they are still seeing high rates of at least one vaccine-preventable illness.

CDC Director Julie M. Gerberding, MD, called the 2004 vaccination rates "terrific news."

Government recommendations call for 14 shots against nine contagious diseases -- including measles, mumps, pneumococcal meningitis, and diphtheria -- when children are between 19 and 35 months of age. Some children also receive vaccination against influenza.

"We enjoy record low levels of these devastating diseases," said Stephen L. Cochi, MD, acting director of the CDC's national immunization program.

Floridaled the country with an 89 percent child vaccination rate, followed by Connecticut (88 percent) and Rhode Island (87 percent). Nevada had the nation's lowest child vaccine coverage at 68 percent.

Vaccination Delays Put Many Children at Risk

Whooping Cough Still Widespread

Health authorities are "still struggling" with high rates of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, Cochi said. Nearly 19,000 cases were reported to the CDC last year, including 15 deaths in infants who most likely contracted it from infected adolescents or adults.

The FDA earlier this year approved a pair of pertussis booster shots designed to re-establish immunity in adolescents who were vaccinated as children.

"Nobody got pertussis any more, I thought," said Monika Burke, a Philadelphia woman who's 16-year-old daughter, Sofie Starcevic, contracted a serious case of whooping cough last year.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious, potentially serious illness in adolescents and adults. It can cause prolonged cough and missed days at school and work. Whooping cough is more frequently severe and can even be fatal in babies, particularly in infants too young to be fully vaccinated.

Since 1980, the rates of reported whooping cough cases have been increasing in adolescents and adults, as well as in young infants. Adolescents and adults can spread whooping cough infection to susceptible young infants and other family members.

Use WebMD's Childhood Immunization Calendar

Adult Rates Poor

Experts remain disappointed by poor adult vaccination rates last year.

Less than 70 percent of U.S. elderly got recommended vaccinations against influenza last year, far short of 2010 federal goals of 90 percent. Less than five in 10 African-Americans and 6 in 10 Hispanics over 65 years of age got flu shots.

Despite widespread flu vaccine shortages, demand among seniors was still too low in 2004 and 2005 to use all available doses, the CDC reported this year. Only 37 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 and 24 percent of those aged 18 to 49 at high risk of influenza because of asthma, cancer treatment, or other chronic health problems got flu shots least year, officials reported.

Less than 60 percent of elderly persons got universally recommended shots against pneumococcal pneumonia in 2002, according to the CDC's National Center on Health Statistics.

"The statistics we have are very disappointing," said David A. Neumann, PhD, executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization, a nonprofit group that received funding from the CDC and from vaccine manufacturers.

Government goals call for 90 percent of all patients on kidney dialysis to receive vaccinations against hepatitis B by 2010, though only 56 percent got the shot last year, the agency said.

U.S. Child Health: Better Than Before?

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Julie M. Gerberding, MD, director, CDC. Steven L. Cochi, MD, director, CDC national vaccination program. David A. Neumann, PhD, executive director, National Partnership for Immunization.