Teen vaccination rates are increasing, but a team of researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center wanted to find out why some families are holding out on the newest vaccines for adolescents.
“Vaccines are among the most effective things we do as doctors,” said Dr. Paul Darden, who works in the pediatrics department at the OU College of Medicine.
Darden and his team looked at three vaccines that have hit the market in recent years:
• Tdap, which prevents tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
• MCV4, which prevents meningitis.
• HPV, which prevents the human papilloma virus, a cause of cervical cancer. At first the vaccine was recommended for girls, but now it is recommended for boys, too.
The researchers analyzed parent surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Darden’s study was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It will appear in the April edition of “Pediatrics.”
Three main reasons
Parents who didn’t have their teens immunized for Tdap and meningitis gave three main reasons for skipping the shots: A doctor hadn’t recommended it, parents didn’t view the vaccines as necessary, or parents didn’t know enough about the shots.
But for the HPV vaccine, parents gave a fourth reason to skip the shots: their children weren’t sexually active yet.
But that is one of the reasons adolescents should be vaccinated, Darden said.
“You need to get it before you’re sexually active in order to have the optimal protection,” he said.
Another challenge the HPV vaccine faces is that the public won’t see the benefits for years, he said.
“We really won’t see that for another 10 or 15 or 20 years,” Darden said. “It’s so cool to think about a vaccine against cancer.”
Shots required by law
In Oklahoma, students are required to have immunizations, said Dorothy Cox, interim director of immunization services at the state Health Department.
Before entering kindergarten, children must have five rounds of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine; four rounds for polio; two rounds for measles, mumps and rubella; three rounds for hepatitis B; two rounds for hepatitis A and one for varicella, or chickenpox. A Tdap booster is required for seventh graders.
A child can be given a first round of vaccinations at 2 months of age, Cox said.
The HPV vaccine is not required by state law for school entry.
The state law requiring vaccinations helps boost vaccination rates, Cox said.
Only about 2 percent of children in Oklahoma have vaccination exemptions based on religious, personal or medical reasons, she said.
Parents did not cite cost as a reason not to vaccinate their children, according to the OU research.
If a child is insured, required vaccines should be covered, Cox said.
For children who are uninsured or have insurance that doesn’t cover vaccinations, there are several locations in Oklahoma that support the Vaccines for Children program, which supplies vaccines for children who are uninsured, underinsured, American Indian or Alaskan Native.
A child covered under Oklahoma’s Medicaid program are eligible to get a vaccine at no cost, Cox said.