Utahns received a healthy shot in the arm this week.

The Utah Department of Health's ailing immunization budget was substantially boosted by legislators wanting all Utah children to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.Health officials hope the new money, which will reduce vaccination fees, will increase the number of children immunized - and ultimately curb the increasing cases of pertussis.

"In 1988 we had 44 cases of pertussis reported, compared to only 15 cases in 1987," said Rick Crankshaw, coordinator of the department's immunization program. "Over the past four years, the increase has been tremendous."

So have the complications.

"Of the 44 cases that were reported, 39 were among children under age 6. Fifteen of the cases, or 34 percent, required hospitalization for an average stay of five days."

Despite the seriousness of the disease, Crankshaw said many parents aren't taking it seriously.

"I feel like there's still too much apathy on the part of parents with regard to the importance of immunizations," he said.

Money is also an issue. The cost of the vaccines has increased dramatically.

In 1983, under federal contract with drug manufacturers, states were able to purchase the DPT vaccine for 12 cents a dose. The current cost is $8.46 a dose - almost a 7,000 percent increase.

The state Health Department, which historically provided the vaccine free to local health districts, changed its policy in July.

"We have been having to charge them $4 per dose to offset the difference between the amount we needed and the amount appropriated," he said.

Local health departments, in turn, passed the costs on to customers.

No one was denied the vaccine because of inability to pay. But, Crankshaw said there have been proud parents who didn't want to be put in the position of saying they couldn't afford it.

"We'd much rather they come in and get the immunization to prevent them from getting the disease," said Peggy Eklund, communicable disease supervisor, Salt Lake City/-County Health Department. "We are much more anxious about that than the fee."

Those who have been able to pay, have paid $10 instead of $3.

The result: A substantial decrease in the number of people immunized. Specifically, a 13.2 percent decrease in the number of doses of DPT administered in public clinics in the last six months of 1988, compared with the last six months of1987.

The largest decline has been among preschool children. Yet, Crankshaw said the vaccine should be received five times before school entry - first at age 2 months.

Unless parents or guardians sign a personal exemption form, citing personal or religious beliefs, all Utah children must have at least four DPT shots before entering school.

For their own protection, those not immunized are dismissed from school during outbreaks.

Crankshaw said if the increased state allocation - $709,000, including a $300,000 block grant - is supplemented by some federal funding, the state Health Department can purchase enough DPT vaccine for Utahns for a year.

"If the (cost of the) vaccine doesn't go up more than 15 percent of its current cost, we will be able to drop the fee by July 1, and hopefully sooner," Crankshaw said. "That in turn should allow the local health departments to reduce their charge back to a maximum of $3 a dose to administer the vaccine."

The end result? Health officials hope that more children will be vaccinated,resulting in fewer cases of pertussis and other diseases.