Kansas health officials say they think a case in Kansas looks nearly inevitable given that more than 1,000 measles cases have been reported so far across the nation. Kansas is in a shrinking minority of states without cases.
KCUR-FM reports that the state’s annual survey of kindergartener vaccination rates suggests some counties do better than others at getting children their potentially life-saving shots. Though Kansas requires shots against illnesses such as measles, whooping cough and polio for school attendance, 15% of kindergartners last year weren’t up to date on those.
While measles gets all the headlines, other vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumonia, cancer rarely raise the same alarms.
People can reduce their risks with two vaccines against bacterial pneumonia recommended for adults ages 65 and older. Bacterial pneumonia hospitalizes hundreds of thousands of Americans a year and kills tens of thousands.
Researchers estimate inoculation against the cancer-causing HPV virus would wipe out 80 percent of the tens of thousands of cancer cases it causes across the country each year. Most people pick up HPV at some point in their lives, though most clear it out of their bodies naturally without necessarily ever knowing.
The federal government estimates just half of Kansas teens get even the first dose of the two-to-three dose HPV vaccine. The same low rates apply to the state’s elderly and the recommended pneumonia immunizations.
Children who do not have insurance or have poor-quality insurance, as well as those on Medicaid, qualify for free vaccines against 16 diseases, including HPV and measles.
“Our struggle right now is really being able to know what the true vaccination rate is in any county,” said Phil Griffin, who heads immunization programs at the Kansas State Department of Health and Environment.
Kansas calculates rates among kindergartners annually with cooperation from a solid sampling of schools that provide more precise data than some of what the Centers for Disease Control publishes. The CDC rate calculations cover a wider range of shots and age groups.
But state health officials will gradually get a better picture of immunization rates across the state in coming years after lawmakers tightened rules for electronic vaccine records starting next year.
That will fill in some of the gaps for health providers who often don’t know which shots a new-to-them patient has yet to get. Doctors and pharmacists will gain more consistent access to vaccines given in Kansas.
Starting this fall, Kansas plans to phase in two more vaccine requirements (for hepatitis A and meningococcal ACWY) for school attendance. Inoculation rates for both would likely increase, though the hep A rates were already fairly strong because they’re already required for day care in Kansas.
The state recently hired an epidemiologist to dig into vaccine rates across the state. It is seeking grants to support the effort and working with individual health providers to improve their practices.
Lawmakers also recently expanded vaccine access by letting pharmacists give more shots. That may particularly benefit teenagers who no longer visit their pediatricians as often and still lack a number of vaccines.