(Reuters Health) - Less than half of U.S. adolescents get vaccinated to protect against seasonal influenza, and even fewer teens receive shots to help prevent cancers of the cervix and throat, new research suggests.
“Immunization rates for teenagers are lower than for younger children who see the doctor more often,” said Dr. Henry Bernstein of Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead, New York.
“Teenagers and their families need to recognize that they should get a physical every year and they should talk about vaccines at every visit,” Bernstein, lead author of two clinical reports on vaccinations published in Pediatrics.
Over the past decade, recommended adolescent vaccinations have expanded to include: two shots for meningococcal disease; one dose of what’s known as the Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis; two or three doses of the HPV vaccine for the cancer-causing human papilloma virus; and an annual influenza vaccine.
Under goals set by U.S. public health officials to help eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases, at least 80 percent of teens should receive these vaccines as recommended by 2020. The objective is to get enough people in the community vaccinated to effectively halt the spread these illnesses.
Nationwide, however, just 47 percent of adolescents aged 13 to 17 received the influenza vaccine during the 2015-2016 flu season, Bernstein and colleagues report.
As of 2015, 43 states achieved at least 80 percent vaccination rates for Tdap, but just 23 states reached this benchmark for meningococcal disease.
Immunization rates varied considerably by state and by vaccine type, too.
The proportion of teens receiving at least one dose of Tdap ranged from 70 percent to 97 percent, while rates for at least one dose of meningococcal disease shots ranged from 55 percent to 98 percent.
The number of girls getting the recommended three doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cervical and vaginal tumors ranged from 24 percent to 68 percent. For boys, HPV vaccination rates to protect against penile cancers ranged from 16 percent to 58 percent. Both men and women can also get throat or anal cancer from HPV.
Many things can deter vaccination in teens, including issues with costs or access to care as well as limited supplies, researchers note.
With influenza, teens might not have annual physicals or see a doctor in October or November, the ideal months to get vaccinated before flu outbreaks become more widespread, they point out.
HPV vaccination poses unique challenges, too, because the virus is sexually transmitted and some parents think only sexually active teens need it or that giving adolescents the shot will encourage them to have sex, the authors write.
Under 2017 changes to U.S. vaccine recommendations released this week, children may receive the HPV vaccine starting at age 9 and they may only need two doses. If they start getting the HPV shots at age 15 or older, teens will still need three doses.
For influenza, a nasal spray version of the vaccine is no longer recommended because it didn’t work, according to the new guidelines.
Other new vaccine recommendations for children and teens include giving all newborns a shot to protect against the hepatitis B virus within 24 hours of birth and giving pregnant adolescents a dose of the Tdap vaccine around the start of the third trimester to help pass immunity on to their babies.
If there’s a bright spot to the current teen vaccination rates, it’s that they’re at historically high levels, and the prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases is at an all-time low, said Dr. Cody Meissner, author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on the new vaccine recommendations.
“There is a direct relationship here,” Meissner, director of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said by email.
“Kids used to die of these diseases all the time,” Meissner added. “People have to understand that no intervention has had as great an impact on population growth, lifespan, longevity and our health than vaccines.”