State health department calls for more teen immunizations

In Washington state, immunization rates among teenagers ages 13-17 are increasing in some areas, and staying static or dropping in others, according to data compiled by the 2011 National Immunization Survey.

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) announced the findings recently, saying that more focus needs to be put on immunizations for people of all ages in the state, especially in light of the recent whooping cough outbreak.

"The whooping cough epidemic reminds us that it's vital for teens to get immunized on time," said Mary Selecky, state secretary of health. "Immunizing teens is as important as immunizing young children — it protects the teens and everyone around them, especially babies who are too young for vaccination. Every teen should be up-to-date with all recommended vaccines."

While some improvement has been seen in teen immunization rates here in the state, the data shows the state is still falling short of state and national vaccination goals. Among those goals is getting 90 percent of teens vaccinated against chickenpox (varicella), and 80 percent immunized agains whooping cough (pertussis), human papillomavirus (HPV), and meningococcal disease.

Whooping cough vaccination rates improved 4 percent between 2010 and 2011 for teens, increasing from 71 to 75 percent. The national average is 78 percent, the DOH notes.

The whooping cough vaccine has been made available in a number of ways this year, due to the fact that 3,800 cases have been reported so far in 2012, the largest number in 70 years.

A booster shot of the whooping cough vaccine, tDap, is recommended for anyone over age 11, due to the fact that the vaccine's effectiveness declines throughout the years.

In regards to HPV vaccination, Washington state is still among the highest in the nation with 69 percent of all females getting the first vaccination in the three-shot series.

However, the rates decrease with each successive shot, with only 40 percent of teen girls in Washington getting the third and final shot to protect against HPV.

2011 marked the first time that vaccination rates for HPV were recorded among males, with 9 percent of young males in Washington state getting the vaccine, compared to the 8 percent national average. It's recommended that children should get the HPV vaccine between ages 11-12 because they have a stronger resistance to the vaccination's effects, as compared to older kids.

Selecky stressed the importance of making sure children are caught up on their vaccinations, and urged parents to take advantage of the times when their children are with a health care professional.

"Some diseases, such as chickenpox, are more dangerous for older teens than for younger kids," she said. "Missing or delaying even one vaccine puts them at risk for catching and spreading disease. Parents should get their teenagers immunized when the teen sees a health care provider for sports physicals, injuries, or mild illnesses."

Washington state offers all recommended vaccinations at no cost for children in the state, up to age 19. Those interested in finding a healthcare provider in their area or an immunization clinic can contact the Family Health Hotline at (800) 322-2588, or visit the DOH's Office of Immunization and Child Profile website at


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