Teen immunization rates a mixed bag; more to do to protect kids in our state

Immunization rates among teens in Washington appear to be improving for some vaccines, while holding steady or dropping slightly for others. That’s according to the 2011 National Immunization Survey that has just been released. Although more teens 13–17 years of age are vaccinated against serious diseases than in previous years, teen immunization rates remain below state goals.

“The whooping cough epidemic reminds us that it’s vital for teens to get immunized on time,” said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “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.”

Even with some gains in teen immunization rates, the survey shows that Washington is not meeting state and national vaccination goals. Those goals include vaccinating 90 percent of teens with the vaccine that protects against chickenpox (varicella) and 80 percent coverage against whooping cough (pertussis), human papillomavirus (HPV), and meningococcal disease.

The percentage of teens getting the whooping cough vaccine, Tdap, improved from 71 percent in 2010 to 75 percent in 2011; the national average is 78 percent. Our whooping cough epidemic continues to be a serious problem, with nearly 3,800 cases reported so far this year – the most in 70 years. Whooping cough vaccines are recommended for all kids, teens, and adults. Most people get a series of whooping cough vaccines as kids, but protection wears off over time. That’s why a dose of Tdap is recommended for everyone age 11 and older. Booster shots play a key role in the fight against diseases that vaccines can prevent.

Our state continues to have one of the highest first-dose HPV vaccination rates for females in the nation; however, the estimated rate decreased from 69 percent to 67 percent and only 40 percent of teen girls got all three doses needed to be fully protected.

For the first time, the national survey included HPV vaccination rates for males; 9 percent got one dose of the vaccine compared to the national average of 8 percent. Health care providers should talk with parents about the importance of all kids getting the HPV vaccine at age 11-12. Kids in this age group have a stronger immune response compared to older ages.

“Some diseases, such as chickenpox, are more dangerous for older teens than for younger kids,” Selecky 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.”

All recommended vaccines are offered at no-cost for children up to age 19 in Washington through healthcare providers participating in the state’s Childhood Vaccine Program. Some may charge for an office visit and/or a fee to give the vaccinations (called an administration fee). People who can’t afford the administration fee can ask the health care provider to waive the cost. For help finding a health care provider or an immunization clinic call the local health agency in your area or the Family Health Hotline, 1-800-322-2588.

More information on immunizations is on the Department of Health Office of Immunization and Child Profile website ( The National Immunization Survey ( is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Department of Health website ( is your source for a healthy dose of information. Also, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


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