Kansas parents do a better-than-average job at getting vaccinations for their young children but don’t fare as well once those children reach their teen years.
That’s according to a report from the United Health Foundation showing about 77 percent of Kansas children had received their recommended sequence of shots by age 3, placing the state in the top 10 for on-time vaccinations. Nationwide, about 72 percent of kids had finished their early vaccines on time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination schedule is based on research submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration showing a vaccine’s safety for particular age groups, as well as disease prevalence data that shows which age groups are most at risk. Waiting longer increases the time when a child could be exposed to a potentially life-threatening illness or expose others.
Vaccination rates among Kansas teens weren’t as high, though. Nearly 80 percent were vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. But only about 65 percent had the vaccine against meningococcal disease, which initially causes flu-like symptoms such as fever and headache but can lead to death or loss of limbs.
John Eplee, a physician and chairman of the Immunize Kansas Coalition, said schools require early childhood vaccines but don’t have a similar requirement for meningitis and other adolescent shots. Also, not all insurance companies cover those immunizations, he said, and the shot for meningitis is relatively expensive.
“It really boils down to one word, and that word is ‘required,’” he said.
The numbers were even lower in Kansas when it came to vaccination rates for human papillomavirus (HPV), with 25 percent of teen girls and 20 percent of teen boys vaccinated. Nationwide, about 40 percent of teen girls and 22 percent of teen boys had received the HPV vaccine, which was first approved for use in 2006.
Most people contract HPV through sexual contact at some point in their lives, and in most cases the infection clears without causing symptoms. In some cases, however, it can lead to cancer, depending on the location of infection. The vaccine is recommended for girls and boys, preferably before they become sexually active.
Parents have become less wary of the vaccine as research has shown teens who receive it don’t behave more promiscuously, Eplee said, but overall awareness of why teens should receive it remains low.
“The real focus has shifted from sexuality to cancer prevention,” he said. “We’re working very hard, vigorously, on the HPV (vaccination) rate in Kansas.”
Eplee said providers should discuss immunizations when teens come in for sports physicals, injuries or minor illnesses. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual doctor visit from age 3 to 21, with more frequent visits for younger children, but families are more likely to skip visits for their older children, he said.
“Let’s be honest, you go to the doctor more when your baby’s brand-new,” he said. “It’s incumbent on the providers to bring (vaccination) up at each encounter.”
Megan Hart is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach her on Twitter @meganhartMC