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Teens May Be Missing Out on Needed Vaccines

MONDAY, Oct. 6 -- Although most people think of young children when they hear about childhood vaccinations, adolescents need certain booster shots as well as new immunizations.

However, a recent study has found that not all teens are getting these necessary vaccinations.

The study, published in the October issue of Pediatrics, found that nearly one-third of teens weren't up-to-date on their measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, another quarter were missing out on their hepatitis B protection, and 16 percent weren't fully immunized against tetanus and diphtheria.

"We found that adolescent immunization rates were low for adolescents 13 years old, and that missed opportunities to vaccinate were pretty common," said study author Dr. Grace Lee, an assistant professor in the departments of pediatrics, and ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard Medical School, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Children's Hospital of Boston.

Lee and her colleagues assessed immunization rates for almost 24,000 13-year-olds enrolled in two health plans. All of the children were born between 1986 and 1991.

They found that 84 percent of the teens were up-to-date on the tetanus-diphtheria vaccination, 74 percent had received hepatitis B vaccination and 67 percent were current on their measles-mumps-rubella immunization.

Lee said the study was conducted before three new vaccines became available for teens, and these new vaccines are: meningococcal, human papillomavirus (HPV), and pertussis.

Teens who had regular preventive care were more likely to be up-to-date on their vaccinations, but Lee said that doctors also missed opportunities to get adolescents current on their immunizations during acute care visits as well.

"I think doctors are more attuned to vaccinations at adolescent preventive visits, but adolescents don't seek preventive care yearly. They tend to go when they're sick. We could target adolescents for vaccination during acute care visits -- get them while you have them," said Lee.

"Babies and young children are much more likely to be fully immunized. That's why I really try to encourage parents to take adolescents for annual health-care visits," said Dr. Susan Coupey, chief of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital of Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City.

Coupey said it's especially important to bring kids in when they're 12 or 13 to make sure they're up-to-date on their immunizations and to ensure that their development is on track.

A second study, also in the October issue of Pediatrics, looked at the reasons that parents might delay or forgo immunizations for their children. The government researchers found that parents often delayed a vaccination due to illness. Another big reason parents felt unsure about vaccines, or delayed or refused a vaccine, was due to concerns about safety or side effects. The study found that many parents changed their minds after discussing their concerns with their doctors, however.

More information

Take the adolescent vaccination quiz from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn more about the necessary vaccinations.

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Posted: October 2008