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Most 1st graders are still six years old but, in a trend that will continue for at least five years, they are much more likely to have "older" mothers who are in their late 20's or early to mid-30's.

In 1979--the latest year for which statistics are available--more than 115,000 women in their 30's gave birth their first child. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, this is 73 percent more than in 1975, and more than twice as many as in 1970.

The first-birth rate--the number of older women per thousand who are having their first child--is also increasing, although fewer are having second and third children. For women in their early 30's, the rate of first births increased 63 percent between 1970 and 1979.

The mothers are not only older, they are also far better educated. In 1979, nearly half the first-time mothers aged 30 to 34 had completed four or more years of college, compared with 28 percent in 1970. They are also more likely to seek prenatal care early in pregnancy.

A television documentary that warned of the potential health risks associated with childhood immunizations has provoked a sharp rebuttal from the American Academy of Pediatrics (aap). The program, entitled "dpt: Vaccine Roulette," was produced by the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., described the potential adverse effects of vaccines for whooping cough, which are routinely given to most children. Among the effects cited were convulsions and permanent brain damage.

The aap characterized the documentary as "irresponsible journalism,'' and a "distortion of scientific fact, causing extraordinary anguish and perhaps irreparable harm to the health and welfare of this nation's children." The pediatricians were also concerned that the documentary might influence funding for child-immunization programs.

A study reported this spring by two researchers from the National Institutes of Health, supports the academy's contention that such side effects are extremely rare. In a follow-up study of 50,000 children, 2,700 had one or more episodes of convulsions before the age of seven, but only 39--1.4 percent of those who had convulsions--were reported to have had them within two weeks of receiving immunizations. Only one of the 39 children appeared to suffer long-term brain damage.

The overall health risk from immunizations is "very small," the researchers emphasized, and the innoculations are necessary to protect children from the greater threat of childhood diseases.

Young women 15 to 24 years of age do appear to be more likely to develop toxic shock syndrome, but the precise cause of the mysterious disease remains unknown, according to the conclusions reached by a panel of researchers convened by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

The use of high-absorbency tampons, especially by adolescents, should be minimized, the panel recommends.

--Susan Walton

Vol. 01, Issue 38

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