O'Neal shots

Christa O'Neal with West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital talks to the Sulphur Kiwanis Club about Shots for Tots and immunizations as the new school year approaches.

With school just around the corner, West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital’s Director of its Shots for Tots program and immunization specialist, Christa O’Neal, is expecting a full office this next week.

“I can tell you from experience, nobody has come to see me in June and July, but once school is around the corner, that’s when parents start thinking about immunizations. This Saturday will likely be a nightmare,” O’Neal quipped.

In Louisiana in general, immunizations among adolescents and children have taken a dip, according to the latest report card compiled by the State of Louisiana.

Immunizations are needed from birth to death, O’Neal emphasized.

“When you think of immunizations, you automatically think about babies, but we continue to need immunizations from school age to teens to young adults and into our later stages in life,” O’Neal said.

Older generations know about diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella. “For some, they’ve never seen those diseases. With the younger generation, they haven’t seen it, they don’t know anyone who’s had them so there’s a lot of hesitancy,” she said.

The numbers support that.

There is a goal set for 85 percent vaccinations in newborns, but in 2016 that percentage dropped to 73.8 percent in Louisiana compared to 84 percent in 2015. However, both numbers are slightly above the national average. The trend continues in higher age groups as well — showing a decrease in immunizations from 2015 to 2016 in children 19 to 35 months, and in kindergartners.

One trend that is on the rise in both the U.S. and Louisiana is immunizations for Human papillomavirus (HPV) for adolescents 13 to 17 years of age. HPV vaccine is recommended at ages 11-12 for both males and females due to the fact that the immune response is more robust, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV has been linked to cancer.

In 2016, males in Louisiana were immunized at 33 percent, compared to 30 percent the year before. Females received the HPV vaccine at 50.8 percent in Louisiana in 2016 — a rise of nearly 11 percent from 2015. The CDC has set a goal of 80 percent or higher nationwide by 2020.

“There are multiple strands of HPV and we vaccinate against the most common ones we know cause different types of cancer,” O’Neal said. “When the vaccine first came on the market, it was only being given to girls. HPV affects both boys and girls, it’s important to realize that.

“It’s just been in the last year or so through research that it was determined that adolescents between 11 and 14 have the best immune response to HPV. If you receive that vaccine before the age of 15 you only have to have two doses. After 15, you’re going to need three doses.”

Tdap (tetanus booster) and Meningococcal vaccines are also recommended for children 11 to 12 years with a Meningococcal booster required at 16. Tdap is a combination vaccine that protects against three potentially life-threatening bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). O’Neal said children at 11 years of age need the Tdap and Meningococcal (meningitis) vaccines to be in school. At the moment, HPV is recommended, but not required for school.

“For most people the last time you received a pertussis vaccine you were five or six years old,” O’Neal said. “They started requiring it at 11 years of age, so my children and most of your children that age have had a Tdap vaccine.”

O’Neal said that if you are an adult and you haven’t had a Tdap vaccine, it’s recommended that you receive it at least once. The tetanus booster is required every 10 years, and is common knowledge, but O’Neal said during that 10 years you should also have a Tdap.

She also recommended that adults who have small children or are caregivers to small children, should have the Tdap. “We are protecting these children who aren’t old enough to either get their first Tdap or until they complete their series. Also, pregnant women should get a Tdap every pregnancy. That’s something new in the last few years. The purpose is to pass that protection to the baby while it’s still in utero.”

According to O’Neal, there is only one vaccine recommended at birth or by two weeks of age … Hepatitis B vaccine.

If parents have any questions regarding immunizations, either call O’Neal at WCCH (337-527-7034) or visit www.shotsfortots.com and www.cdc.gov/vaccines.