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Youths lag in getting shots

Immunizations of some are half the U.S. average

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While toddler immunization rates in Utah have risen significantly, adolescent rates in Utah's region are only half the national average.

Utah was ranked 42nd in the nation last year when it came to immunizations for children before age 2, up from dead last in 1996. This year, the state has climbed to No. 22, with 82 percent of infants immunized by age 2. Officials are giving much of the credit to Utah first lady Jacalyn Leavitt's "Every Child By Two" immunization campaign and the work of a statewide task force.

Statewide programs help to "encourage and remind parents that this is a priority," Leavitt said.

When it comes to adolescents ages 12 and 13, however, a recent study found that only 5.9 percent in the Mountain West have current immunizations, compared to nearly 11 percent nationally.

So, Intermountain Health Care Health Plans, the state's second-largest health insurer, and the Utah Department of Health launched a new initiative Thursday to address the dearth of adolescent immunizations.

The campaign was announced during a meeting of the Utah Immunization Task Force, which also supports the campaign.

State law, while fairly stringent on pre-kindergarten immunizations, is mostly silent on that for older children, although last year Utah lawmakers mandated two doses of measles vaccine by 12th grade, according to Rebecca Ward, education outreach coordinator for the Utah Immunization Program in the health department. Research indicates that 96 percent of Utah's students have had that second dose by the time they graduate from high school. But data hasn't been collected on the other types of immunizations for older students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided the rankings, recommends that adolescents have a second dose of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine by age 11 to 12. It calls for a series of three doses of hepatitis B vaccine by that age, one dose of varicella (chickenpox) vaccine up to age 12 or two doses after that, and tetanus and diphtheria boosters, one between ages 11-16 and then every decade thereafter.

According to Daron Cowley, IHC spokesman, the campaign will include reminding physicians who care for adolescents of the immunization recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youths enrolled in IHC health plans will also receive brochures describing the need for immunizations. As an added incentive, adolescents who receive immunizations can enter a quarterly drawing for prizes like Apple Computers, mountain bikes and CD players.

The state task force primary focus will remain the "every child by 2" message for immunization. But the new campaign focuses people on the message that "the need for immunization goes from birth to the elderly years, across the lifespan," Ward said.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com