Should Schools Require Vaccinations for Teens?
Debate Stirred by Rise in Whooping Cough Cases
July 27, 2005 -- Middle schools and high schools should consider requiring
students to be vaccinated against infectious diseases before attending classes,
a CDC official said Wednesday.
Public health officials have been alarmed by an astonishing 300% rise in cases of
pertussis, also known as whooping cough, among teens in the past
three years. Just under 19,000 pertussis cases were reported last year.
Most infants receive pertussis vaccinations before their third birthday, but
immunity wears off by the time children reach their teens.
Battling Whooping Cough
The FDA this spring approved a pair of new vaccines designed to re-establish
immunity in older kids.
Many states require young children to have complete vaccinations before
entering elementary school. In September, thousands of District of Columbia
students were barred by officials from attending classes because of missing
Stephen L. Cochi, MD, acting director of the CDC's national immunization
program, told reporters yesterday that health officials are "still
struggling" with rising cases of pertussis.
"The main message is that the pertussis bacteria is still circulating
widely out there," he said.
Wednesday, Larry K. Pickering, MD, Cochi's senior adviser, said states
should consider extending vaccination requirements to also cover older kids in
middle schools and high schools. While he did not endorse the policy, he listed
it as one of his recommendations -- along with better vaccine education and
tracking -- for extending vaccinations to teens.
"We'll have to see the direction that we take as far as requirements for
entry into various schools," Pickering said at a conference sponsored by
the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The group is sponsored by six
pharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturers.
Vaccines on Campus
Pickering credited requirements for student meningococcal vaccinations at
many colleges and universities for helping to control the frequency of
bacterial meningitis at U.S. campuses.
In May, the CDC recommended that children receive a newly approved meningitis vaccine at ages
11-12 or before high school or college.
Nine states require vaccinations for freshmen entering college dormitories.
Eighteen more require universities to provide students with education on
meningitis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Meningitis kills 10%-15% of the 2,600 people who contract it each year,
according to the CDC.
Experts also await the approval of a vaccine against human papilloma virus
(HPV), a known cause of cervical cancer. HPV is sexually transmitted, and
young, sexually active women are thought to be at particular risk.