Public health campaign promotes importance of adolescent vaccinations

Alaska youth will be getting a friendly health reminder in the mail this summer.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ Immunization Program will send out 40,000 postcards to adolescents aged 11 and older to promote the importance of getting vaccinated against a handful of communicable diseases.

The campaign, which focuses on three vaccines that inoculate against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, meningitis and human papillomavirus (HPV), is part of a years-long effort to increase immunization rates in the state, Matt Bobo, Immunization Program manager, said.

Since 2013, the Immunization Program has promoted the importance of vaccinations through public service announcements and on social media. The result was been a statistically significant rise in the percent of immunized adolescents, Bobo said.

From the start of the media blitz in 2013 to 2016, Tdap vaccines — which inoculate against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis — increased from 74 percent in 2013 to 79 percent in 2016.

Rates of meningococcal immunizations, which inoculate against meningitis, increased from 55 to 67 percent.

HPV — a sexually transmitted disease that infects one in four Americans and causes 32,500 cancers annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — saw similarly large increases. Immunizations against the disease increased from 52 to 62 percent for girls age 13 to 17, Bobo said. For boys, the rate of increase more than doubled — with 60 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds receiving the vaccination, up from 28 percent.

Bobo credits the campaign’s focus on cancer prevention in helping boost the rates of HPV immunizations.

“The CDC kind of switched its messaging around HPV, and I think because of that it has had a different impact,” Bobo said. “Instead of focusing on (HPV) like a sexually transmitting disease, they’re focusing on it as a to key to cancer prevention.”

Along with the postcards, the Immunization Program will send out letters this summer to local health care providers with local statistics on immunization rates.

Reach Erin Thompson at ethompson@peninsulaclarion.com.

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