Immunization rates fall short for Oregon teens

Woman talks of need for vaccinations after infection claimed son

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PORTLAND (AP) — Fewer than two-thirds of Oregon's teenagers get vaccinated against the fast-moving infection that killed Drew Ottley of McMinnville at age 18.

His mother, Holly Burch, says the vaccine against meningococcal disease was out about a year when he died in 2006, but it wasn't offered to her. She has been working with public health officials since then to persuade teens to get the vaccines recommended for them.

"I would have given anything to pay that $80 or $100 to get my son vaccinated," she said. "That's just like buying him a new pair of shoes, and I'll never get to do that again."

The high school senior felt bad and went to bed early after a skateboarding session with his friends, she said. The next morning, he was gone. "He died that fast," Burch says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some immunization rates among Oregon teens fall far short of what public health officials want.

"Everybody thinks vaccines are for kids," said Dr. Paul Cieslak, medical director of the Oregon Immunization Project, but "there are good reasons for teenage vaccines."

About 84 percent of Oregon teens have had the Tdap vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.

But only 65 percent have been immunized against the meningococcal disease that killed Ottley.

About 60 percent of Oregon girls have had one dose of the HPV vaccine against human papilloma virus, but only a third have had all three doses. Among boys, 25 percent have had one dose and 6 percent have had all three doses.

Teens and their parents appeared to take note of the Tdap recommendation after sizeable outbreaks of whooping cough. Oregon had 910 cases last year, up from 328 cases in 2011.

Fewer, though, have heeded recommendations for the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against four out of five strains of the disease.

Of the 26 cases last year in Oregon, at least 13 could have been prevented by the vaccine, Cieslak says.

Meningococcal disease, which often causes severe disabilities or death, peaks in infancy and then again when people are in their late teens and early 20s. Cases often crop up in places where people from disparate places converge in small spaces, such as college dormitories.