SAN DIEGO COUNTY: Many Students Lack Required Hepatitis Vaccine
A nationally published survey found low rates of hepatitis B vaccinations among San Diego County students, despite a state law that requires all students to complete the course of three shots before entering seventh grade, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Published in the Feb. 11 edition of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers from the county, California Department of Health and San Diego State University's School of Public Health surveyed a random sample of parents with children entering fifth and sixth grade and found that less than half of those children had been vaccinated. Only 17.6% of parents could produce documentation confirming that their children had received any of the shots, while only 6.5% had documentation of their children receiving the complete series. In addition, 26% of parents said their children were inoculated, but they lacked the proper confirmation. Sandy Ross, survey researcher and immunization coordinator for the county Department of Health Services, said that "most parents thought their children were already immunized when they weren't." Under current California law, all children entering kindergarten and seventh grade must provide proof that they have completed the full course of immunization. Lack of public funding and the absence of a comprehensive immunization effort for students in grades eight and higher are largely to blame for the lax compliance, the researchers said. Each shot can cost between $35 to $50, a large deterrent for San Diego County's 645,000 uninsured residents.
Falling Through the Cracks
Public health officials also are concerned that the state's program to target kindergarten and seventh grade students has left out nearly 2 million students in eighth through 12th grades -- 175,000 in San Diego County -- who matriculated through seventh grade prior to the program's inception. Ross said, "We've now corrected the problem at the seventh grade, but many of our older kids have fallen through the cracks." And, many of those teens are at the age when they are particularly susceptible to contracting hepatitis B, which is transmitted through sexual intercourse or sharing needles. The exact number of students in grades eight through 12 who have been vaccinated is unknown. More disturbing perhaps is that many teens, when asked about the vaccination, indicated that they had never heard of hepatitis B, much less the vaccine. Although health officials considered requiring immunization in all grades, they indicated that such a program would "overwhelm the private health care system" prior to the school year. Further, officials said that such a requirement in higher grades "might raise the delicate issue of sexual activity." The San Diego survey was the first attempt to quantify the number of students who have been vaccinated. Another survey focusing on immunization rates in higher grades will be released soon (Clark, 3/7).