(Northland's NewsCenter) Markedly greater numbers of Minnesota teens are receiving vaccines recommended during adolescence, according to results of a national survey released Thursday.
But the rates are still not as high as state health officials would like.
According to the National Immunization Survey – Teen, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, immunization rates for the relatively new tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster increased from 52 percent in 2009 to 70.3 percent in 2010.
Similarly, immunization with meningococcal vaccine, which protects against a serious form of meningitis, increased from 43.9 percent to 57.0 percent. And 37.8 percent of adolescent girls had completed the three-dose series of human papilloma virus vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer, up from 27.0 percent in the prior year. Nationally, coverage with each of the vaccines rose at a pace similar to Minnesota's.
"We're pleased that Minnesota continues to show improvement in coverage rates for these important vaccines," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of Infectious Disease, Epidemiology, Prevention and Control for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). "We're making progress, but these results also tell us we still have much work to do before we can say our young people are sufficiently protected from these diseases."
It's important that adolescents get these vaccines, Ehresmann explained, because they provide protection against diseases at a time when teens and young adults are at risk. Also, the adolescent health check-up recommended at 11 or 12 years of age provides a convenient time to receive these vaccines while adolescents are still visiting their health care providers regularly.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is part of the standard childhood vaccine series, but recent studies have revealed that immunity begins to wane in pre- to early adolescence. Students entering seventh grade should receive Tdap if they haven't already, even though Minnesota's school immunization requirements haven't yet been updated to specify this vaccine instead of the older tetanus-only version.Tdap is also strongly recommended for anyone who will be spending time around infants –who are most at risk for serious complications from pertussis and are too young to receive the vaccine. "So teens, who are potential babysitters, as well as moms, dads, and grandparents of new babies, should get Tdap to protect not just themselves, but those who are vulnerable around them," Ehresmann said. "Tdap is for everyone 7 years of age and older."
It's important for 11 and 12 year olds to get a first dose of meningococcal vaccine to prevent meningococcal infection, which is a rare but serious cause of meningitis and blood infections. A new recommendation calls for a booster dose at 16, when teens' risk starts going up markedly.
With the HPV vaccine, the main goal is to prevent cervical cancer in women. The HPV vaccine provides almost 100 percent protection against the two forms of human papilloma virus that cause most cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine also protects against related cancers and genital warts, so it has benefits for both sexes, and can be given to both girls and boys.
"The virus is transmitted from person to person through sexual contact, but we know that it's important that teens receive the vaccine before they become sexually active as a way to maximize the protection and minimize the risk," Ehresmann said. "When someone becomes sexually active, male or female, their chances of getting HPV within the first few months are extremely high. Getting the vaccine after sexual activity has begun may be too late."
"All three of these vaccines are important at this age," Ehresmann said. "They can be given at the same appointment to minimize inconvenience for teens and their parents."
CDC officials expressed concern that HPV vaccination rates are not growing as fast as the rates for other adolescent vaccines. In Minnesota as well as in the nation as a whole, the trajectory of increase is somewhat lower for HPV than for other vaccines.
Making improvements in immunization coverage rates requires a concerted effort by all the parties involved, Ehresmann said. "Parents need to ask their health care provider about the vaccines; providers need to recommend to parents that their teens get the vaccines; public health needs to make the recommendations clear and simple and provide the resources for parents and providers to understand their importance; and manufacturers need to make sure the supply of vaccine is consistently adequate. In this way, we can achieve our goal of significantly reducing these diseases through increased immunization rates."