Editorial: Optional teen vaccines well worth the effort

Kids, generally speaking, hate shots. So much so that, if you believe numbers released recently as part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National immunization Survey, too many Oregon teens are simply opting out when they reach their teenage years.

State law requires that teens be current on a variety of immunizations if they wish to attend school each year, with exceptions made under certain circumstances, and most teens to meet those requirements, including one that they have had five DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough or acellular pertussis) shots, including a booster, by the time they’re 12. It’s when shots are optional that they tend to opt out.

The optional shots include annual vaccinations against flu, plus a series of three vaccinations against the human papilloma virus and a single vaccination against meningococcal disease. No one tracks flu vaccinations, but officials suspect the percentage of teens receiving them annually is low. So, too, are vaccinations against HPV and meningococcal disease — only a third of girls and 6 percent of boys have had three recommended HPV vaccines, and about 35 percent are missing the meningococcal disease vaccine.

There may be reasons not to require HPV and meningococcal disease vaccines. The first, which protects against a sexually transmitted virus, would no doubt be a hard sell for some parents who willingly have their kids immunized against polio, tetanus and the rest. The second is an illness that, though it can be deadly, is rare, according to the state’s Public Health Department website.

Yet the state’s youngest children, those under age 5, are most likely to come down with meningococcal disease, which drops off and then picks up again when kids go away and live in college dorms. In fact, many states, though not Oregon, tell public universities they must require meningococcal vaccines for incoming students.

Vaccinations do carry some risk, of course, but that is outweighed by the seriousness of the diseases they prevent. Whether those shots are required or not, they’re well worth the instant of pain they inflict.