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State lags in most teen immunizations

The Washington state Department of Health on Thursday released survey numbers regarding teen immunization rates.

This is the first time state-by-state data has been available from the National Immunization Survey, state officials said. The survey included teens 13-17.

While Washington is behind the national average for most of the immunizations recommended for teens, it is above the national rate for human papillomavirus vaccine – at 46.5 percent, compared with the national average of 37.2 percent.

The survey estimates how many teens have received six recommended vaccines. Like the HPV vaccine, two others are newer vaccines recommended for 11- and 12-year-olds. In Washington, nearly 35 percent of teens had received the T-dap vaccine that protects against whooping cough, compared to the national average of almost 41 percent.

Forty percent of Washington teens got the vaccine that protects against some types of meningococcal disease, a leading cause of bacterial meningitis. The national rate for this vaccine is 41.8 percent.

The survey also covers three routine childhood vaccines: measles, mumps and rubella; hepatitis B; and chickenpox.

“Teens are a hard population to reach when it comes to vaccination,” said Washington state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “They don’t visit health care providers regularly like children and infants do. It’s important for parents to get their teens the recommended immunizations, which they may need to attend college, join the military, or travel abroad.” Some diseases, such as chickenpox, are more dangerous for teens than for younger children. Teens can also spread diseases to friends and family members who aren’t fully protected. Parents should get their teens immunized when they see their health care provider for sports physicals, injuries and mild illnesses, Selecky noted.

The Department of Health works closely with providers, health insurers, local health agencies and partners to make sure children have access to vaccines as changes to the Universal Childhood Vaccine program are applied, meaning the state supplies vaccine for only some children instead of all children.

“Immunizations are just as important for teens as they are for infants and children,” Selecky said. “This year’s whooping cough cases at the state high school wrestling championships reminded us that we need to be sure teens are up to date on their immunizations.”

The Department of Health provides most vaccines at no cost to health care providers for children under age 19.

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