If you haven't had your children fully immunized by the next time you go to the movies, Cal Ripken Jr. himself will be laying on a little guilt.
The Orioles shortstop and his wife, Kelly, are starring in a 45-second movie trailer urging parents to "Be Wise. Immunize."
Also appearing in a sleeping role is Madison Emma Leigh Gretzky, the 30-hour-old daughter of Jim and Sarah Gretzky of Baltimore County and a distant cousin of Los Angeles Kings hockey star Wayne Gretzky.
The short film, sponsored by the state, Loews Theaters and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland, will be shown in all 98 Maryland Loews theaters during the next 30 days and again during the month of October.
Doctors recommend that all children be immunized by age 2 against measles, mumps, German measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and HIB disease (a bacterial infection that can cause meningitis).
At a preview yesterday at Baltimore's Rotunda theater, Maryland Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said immunization rates for Maryland 2-year-olds have climbed in recent years but remain too low.
Health officials said 61 percent of the state's preschoolers were immunized for this school year.
That's close to the national average, but inner-city immunization rates across the country are frequently much lower.
In 1991-1992, in the most recent nationwide data available, Maryland's immunization rate was 57 percent, with 21 states ranked higher. No Baltimore data were available, but the rate in Washington was 39 percent.
"We have a long way to go," Mr. Sabatini said.
The United States ranks among many Third World nations in its failure to adequately protect its children against serious illness. It has the third-worst immunization rate in the Western Hemisphere.
Low immunization rates have been blamed in part for a national epidemic of measles that resulted in 11,000 hospitalizations and 166 deaths between 1988 and 1991.
The Clinton administration yesterday announced a goal of having 90 percent of the nation's 2-year-olds protected by the year 2000.
The proposals include free vaccines for all needy children, increased federal funding for cities and states to improve immunization services, and stepped-up public service advertising.
Health insurers are also beginning to place a higher priority on immunizations, which often are not covered. William L. Jews, president and CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland, said: "We as an association have got to recognize and move toward preventive medicine, education and spending a disproportionate amount of money on the front end. The investment will provide better quality and it will save money in the long run."
The vaccines are available from local health departments on a sliding fee scale based on income.
"For a parent to ignore immunization is in my mind almost criminal," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday. "The message has to go out that if you bring a baby into the world, you owe it every possible chance to make it in this world."