Two public health officials on how many Iowa teens are getting vaccinated

State on right track when it comes to immunizations, officials say

Vaccination rates among teenagers are higher in Iowa than the rest of the U.S. on average, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

The 2018 National Immunization Survey found 94 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds in the state got the Tdap vaccination, which includes protection from tetanus and whooping cough. More than 89 percent were vaccinated against meningitis, up from 83.6 percent in 2017.

Nationally, about 89 percent of teens have the Tdap vaccine and 87 percent have the meningococcal vaccine.

About 73 percent of Iowa teens have had the first dose of the HPV vaccination, which prevents certain forms of cancer. About 55 percent have completed the two- to three-shot series. Nationally, 68 percent have finished the series and 51 percent have started it.

The study is a sign that Iowa is on the right track, said Immunizations Bureau Chief Don Callaghan and Immunizations Program Manager Bethany Kintigh of the Iowa Department of Public Health, though work remains.

Callaghan and Kintigh spoke to The Gazette about teen vaccination rates. Their responses have been edited for length.

Q: What stands out to you in this CDC report?

Kintigh: This is the only tool we have to compare ourselves nationally to other states. It’s one data set we use to make sure our rates are maintaining, and it’s also important that Iowa health care providers are still providing immunizations, and the majority of our population is fully immunized.


Callaghan: We are exceeding the national average, and other states when you start looking around the region.

Q: Do you have a sense of why Iowa’s rate is so high?

Callaghan: It’s not 100 percent the result of the work we (the Iowa Department of Public Health) are doing. It’s really the health care providers we have here in Iowa, and also the Iowans who see the need to receive the vaccinations for their children.

Kintigh: And the school nurses who are making sure students are fully immunized and prepared for school.

Q: Iowa teenagers’ HPV vaccine rates aren’t as high as other vaccinations, especially among boys. Why is that, and what’s the value of that vaccine?

Kintigh: We still have work to do just to make sure we’re providing the HPV vaccine for teens, and to make sure that series is complete.

Callaghan: HPV vaccines are not required for attending school, like Tdap is required for seventh grade and meningococcal is required for seventh and 12th (grades). So some of those increases can be attributed to the immunization requirements we have to attend schools here in Iowa. Some of our surrounding states have those same levels of requirement too.

When the HPV vaccine initially came out, it was not recommended for boys. We’ve been playing catch-up to get the young men to a level the girls have been at. We definitely have a lot of work to do in both boys and girls with HPV, and there has been a lot of work over the past four to five years with HPV rates, parent communication, and having HPV cancer survivors tell their stories about what happened to them — especially when there’s a vaccine to prevent them from going through all that.

Q: In some areas of the country, vaccination rates have fallen. Is Iowa buffered from that trend, or are you seeing any warning signs?


Callaghan: Vaccination hesitation is occurring in Iowa as well as the nation. There are groups of individuals who, since they have not seen these diseases, are choosing not to vaccinate. I think unfortunately, when they choose not to vaccinate, it creates these pockets or areas of the state where those individuals are susceptible to these diseases — and we know these diseases are just a plane ride away. ... If you have a few individuals, a disease can gain a foothold. But there aren’t places where we’re saying, hey avoid this place.

Kintigh: It’s great to see these high rates because it shows the majority of the public still believe in vaccines. And kudos to Iowa health care providers who are out there every day.

Q: State data published in August show about 75 percent of 2-year-olds in Iowa have all of their immunizations. That rate has been steady the last few years, what do you make of that?

Callaghan: That’s a snapshot in time, and it’s very specific in what we’re assessing. Some children do receive additional vaccines after 2, and they’re probably being caught up all the way through kindergarten. Some kids are not receiving their vaccines on time, may be a slight delay, but most are getting those doses of vaccines as they progress toward school age.

Kintigh: Iowa health care providers are the trusted source for vaccination information in our state, and they do a great job of supporting vaccination and recommending immunizations. We know that when your doctor gives you a recommendation for a vaccine, you’re five times more likely to be immunized.

Callaghan: And just because you achieve a rate one time, ... you have to start over. You’re starting over with each child that needs to be receiving those vaccines. Every year, children are born in Iowa, and you’re starting from ground zero to make sure they’re fully protected and immunized.

Q: What about families who don’t have regular access to a health care professional?

Callaghan: We have a vaccination for children program that covers individuals from birth to 18. So all these children we’re talking about are able to receive vaccines even if they don’t have health insurance, if they’re American Indian or Native Alaskan, or if they’re underinsured. There are over 500 health care providers in the state who participate in that program, so there are definitely at least one or more in every county.

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