/Mississippi, first in school-age vaccines, lags in immunization rates for teens, adults

Mississippi, first in school-age vaccines, lags in immunization rates for teens, adults

Mississippi Today’s former state health officer Dr. Mary Currier stated last year that “in a state there aren’t a lot of healthcare statistics that we brag about,”. A 40-year-old law is the reason the state has been successful. It is not like other laws in other states and has not been affected by loopholes pushed out by the anti-vaccine movement. Mississippi’s status as a leader in immunizations hides a complex reality. According to data from Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mississippi is far below the national average when it comes to young children, teens, and adults. In some cases, Mississippi came in dead last. Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the current State Health Officer, said that there are “great, huge gaps” and that they want this to be part of the story. Mississippi currently ranks 34th in early childhood vaccinations with only 72 percent of children below three getting five vaccines as scheduled. The rate increases to almost 100 percent by kindergarten, but the numbers quickly flip when the kids reach high school. According to the CDC, Mississippi ranks 47th in teenager vaccinations. This is ahead of only Kansas, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. The state is also last in HPV vaccinations for teenagers. Only half of those aged 15 and under received the vaccine. Adulthood is a tougher time for these numbers. Mississippi is currently ranked 36 for vaccine coverage among adults. Only 35% of adults have received the recommended pneumococcal and tetanus immunizations. Jill Gonzalez, a researcher at Wallethub, said that the current state of vaccination coverage in Mississippi is “quite dismal.” She released a report last week on national vaccination rates. The vast majority of Mississippians, regardless of age, avoid flu shots. These vaccines are not required for children under the age of 12. According to the CDC Mississippi is currently 46th in flu vaccinations. Only 42 percent of Mississippians received flu shots last year. Dobbs said this is a problem because flu season is just around the corner. Mississippi has the second highest flu-related death rate in America. Hawaii has the highest flu death rate per capita. Dobbs stated, “It’s what we’re really really bad at.” “What happens is that people over 65 in Mississippi are actually very good at it. There is a misconception that children and adults don’t require the vaccine as much as their parents. People underestimate the risk and we have many deaths in this age group.” Dobbs says that the problem with immunization rates is similar to the problem Mississippians face when it comes access to health care. “With early childhood vaccines, part of it are the intrinsic social barriers in Mississippi–poverty, transportation–those play a big role. Dobbs stated that even though we are ranked 20th in immunizations, there is no law that requires them. But I believe it goes deeper than that. It’s a health culture in Mississippi. We don’t seek out health care and we don’t accept health services. It’s part cultural, part awareness, and part because people don’t believe they are at risk of getting the flu. According to Gonzalez and Dobbs, high immunization rates may be more important in Mississippi which has a lower-healthy population. Dobbs stated that “we’re paying the cost in well-being and lives as well as in money.” He cites HPV, which can cause cervical cancer and certain throat tumors. He said that increasing the immunization rate could eliminate cervical cancer completely. But Gonzalez and Dobbs disagree on how to do this. Gonzales stated that no state mandates vaccines beyond school entry. She points out that states like Massachusetts have an incentive program that rewards families who follow recommendations with vouchers and gift cards. “Local authorities will have to help this at the grass roots level, help from the bottom up, rather than having the states mandate it.” Dobbs stated that he agreed with Mississippi’s inability to increase immunization requirements, but that increasing awareness is key to increasing coverage. He also said that recent immunization campaigns by the Department of Health have helped. Although he acknowledged that the HPV vaccination rate is still low, he stated that it has increased dramatically. Since 2008, the rate has more than tripled. It was only 16 percent for Mississippi teens. The national rate nearly doubled in that time period, going from 35% to 68%. In this age of information overload and rapid news cycles, we need to do everything possible to make the most of our time. Dobbs stated that sometimes information can be difficult to remember, but people need to grasp how important it is.