Jill Sederstrom is a Contributing Editor
Parents of teenagers are often unaware that their teen children have not had all the vaccinations they need.
Most parents of teenagers believe (wrongly) their children have all the vaccinations needed for their age, despite national data suggesting otherwise.
According to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital's National Poll on Children's Health, 79% of parents surveyed reported their children definitely had received all the recommended vaccines for the child's age, while an additional 14% said their child was "probably" up-to-date. These findings, however, are in stark contrast with national data on immunization trends.
According to the report, recent CDC data suggests that only one-third of teens have received the second dose of the meningitis vaccine by the time they reach the age of 17; national data for the HPV vaccines among teenagers also remains low.
Part of discrepancy is a significant lack of knowledge among parents of teens in regard to the recommended vaccination schedules.
The results of the poll indicate than more than one-third- 36%-of parents surveyed did not know when or if their child was due for another vaccination.
Sarah J. Clark, MPH, co-director of the poll, told Drug Topics that the findings of the poll indicate a significant gap in knowledge between providers, who are up-to-date on the latest vaccination recommendations, and parents, who may not understand that vaccinations continue beyond the infant and early-childhood years.
"We don't necessarily always prepare parents for this idea that vaccination is going to be life-long," she said, adding that the teen years have actually been one of the age groups to recently see a lot of change in the immunization schedule.
This gap in knowledge, she said, comes at the same time that many teenagers have a decrease in the number of interactions they have with the health-care system. Many, for instance, may no longer attend regular yearly well-check visits and may be more likely to visit a walk-in clinic or only see a physician for an injury or illness.
"Generally, immunizations aren't necessarily brought up at those kinds of visits," she said. "So, we lose that opportunity for it to come up naturally."
The study found, however, that parents still expect a child's health provider to guide them on teen vaccines either by scheduling appointments or sending reminders.
"We have an unfortunate situation where the parents are relying on the doctor's office and at the same time the kids aren't necessarily showing up there with frequency and the type of visits where it's going to occur naturally," Clark said.
She believes physician's offices need to be more proactive about getting parents information about teenage vaccines; however, pharmacies, school-based health-care clinics and walk-in clinics could also play a significant role in increasing parent knowledge and providing vaccinations.
Clark suggested that if pharmacies want to meet their potential in addressing vaccination needs for this population, they also need to acknowledge that getting immunizations at a retail pharmacy may be unfamiliar for most. Clear directions about how to start the interaction if a customer is interested in getting a vaccination could help reduce confusion, she said.