August 25, 2014
Kindergarten immunization rates stay high, adolescent rates slowly catching up
New immunization requirements for schools, child care, and early childhood programs start Sept. 1
Children and adolescents are heading back to school and many after-school activities. When children are in close quarters with each other, diseases can spread quickly, so the Minnesota Department of Health is reminding parents about the importance of making sure their children are up-to-date on their immunizations.
Minnesota parents continue to do well with making sure young children are immunized, but rates for some adolescent immunizations are lagging. According to the most recent school immunizations data, more than 90 percent of Minnesota kindergarteners were vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis B and chickenpox for the 2013-14 school year.
"High vaccination rates are important for keeping kids in school instead of being home sick with a serious, vaccine-preventable disease," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases for MDH. "It also helps protect those kids who can't get certain immunizations because of medical conditions or who don't respond to immunizations because of a weakened immune system."
On Sept. 1, changes to Minnesota's immunization law take effect that require students to receive certain vaccinations or submit documentation of a legal exemption. Among the changes, seventh graders will now need to receive the meningococcal and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccines. Health officials expect that the requirement will help boost rates for those vaccines.
"Meningococcal and Tdap vaccines have been recommended for 11-12 year olds for a while, but vaccination rates have not been as high as we'd like," Ehresmann said. "The new requirement will help us make sure adolescents are protected from these diseases. We've already seen the rates increase as students get ready for the upcoming school year, but we have a long way to go."
Minnesota's school immunization reporting data have not included meningococcal and Tdap vaccines in the past because they were not required for school entry, but schools will start reporting on these vaccines for the 2014-15 school year. The Minnesota Department of Health has been tracking coverage rates for these vaccines with data from the Minnesota Immunization Information Connection (MIIC)--a system that stores electronic immunization records. As of Aug. 15, 2014, immunization rates for meningococcal and Tdap were 52.6 percent and 59.7 percent respectively for students entering seventh grade this fall.
The MDH Immunization Program is working to educate parents on the importance of these adolescent vaccines through a new website www.vax4teens.com, social media messages, awareness campaigns, and outreach at the Minnesota State Fair. Ehresmann noted that these efforts are also letting parents know about other vaccines recommended for adolescents, such as influenza and the HPV vaccine, which protects against certain types of cancers caused by the human papillomavirus.
Some helpful tips for parents include:
- Check your child's immunization history. For copies of your child's immunization records, talk to your clinic or call MIIC at 651-201-5503 or 800-657-3970.
- Compare your child's records to the new shot requirements (see "Are Your Kids Ready?" at www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/immunize/schedules.html).
- Schedule an appointment if your child needs additional vaccines.
- Keep a copy of your child's records. You may be asked to provide proof of immunization again.
For parents who are concerned about the cost of immunizations, the Minnesota Vaccines for Children Program provides free or low cost shots for eligible children through 18 years of age: www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/immunize/mnvfc/basics.html.
School immunization data for counties, districts and schools is available on the MDH website at www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/immunize/stats/school/index.html.