Low Teenage Vaccination Numbers Cause For Concern


Oregon Public Broadcasting

As kids head back to school, the Oregon Health Authority has released a report on how many teens are getting inoculated against meningococcal disease, the human papilloma virus and the flu.

The study found that only about 65 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds were vaccinated against meningococcal disease last year.

Dr. Paul Cieslak of the Oregon Health Authority says that's not high for a disease that's essentially fatal without the prompt administration of antibiotics. The disease thrives when young people live together -- like in college dorms.

"In situations like this, military barracks, where you've got a bunch of kids coming into boot camp is another example, where you tend to see outbreaks. Because many of the people haven't been exposed before, but maybe one of them has an now you've got a whole dormitory or barracks full of exposed people," says Cieslak.

Cieslak says overall, the death rate for meningococcal disease is about 10 percent -- because some people go to their doctor too late.

On the other hand, he said, it is a pretty rare disease -- there's about one case per 100,000 people a year in Oregon, which may also explain why the vaccination rate is low.

Flu is not uncommon, but the study found that only about 35 percent of teenagers were vaccinated against it last year.

Cieslak understands why: "It's hard to get teenagers into the doctor to get their shots."

The study also found that the vaccination rate against the human papilloma virus was low - 61 percent of girls were immunized last year and only 25 percent of boys.

Cieslak says that virus causes an estimated 70 percent of cervical cancers.

"Most women of course don't get that cancer, but the for the ones who do, it's often progressed to the point where really awful surgeries are needed to fix it," according to Cieslak.

On the positive side, almost 90 percent of teens were vaccinated against Whooping Cough, most likely because it's required for school. But Whooping Cough is on the rise in the Northwest.

The Oregon Perinatal Collaborative has issued an urgent call for every woman to get immunized against it -- for each of her pregnancies.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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