Results from a recent National Immunization Survey regarding teens (13-17) showed Kansas is improving in vaccine rates for HPV and MenACWY and remaining consistent with Tdap.

“In 2014, Kansas had the lowest coverage in the nation for the HPV vaccine, with only 34.4% of respondents reporting one or more doses received,” said Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman. “I’m very pleased to report that Kansas is now at 62.3% coverage in 2018, up significantly from 52.4% in 2017.”

Kansas has seen an average increase in HPV coverage of 6.3 percentage points annually since 2014, while the national average increase has been 4.4 percent.

For Harvey County, numbers have followed a similar pattern, according to Health Department assistant director Toby Harkins. While the Tdap and MenACWY vaccine numbers have stayed fairly consistent among local teens, there has been movement among those seeking out the HPV vaccine.

"I'm seeing more people take the HPV (vaccine), starting last year and this year. It has definitely (seen) an increase," Harkins said.

Over the last four years, Harkins noted the Harvey County Health Department has administered more than 800 Tdap vaccines to teens 13-17 — with numbers staying fairly stable over the years. Meanwhile, the department has administered just shy of 300 HPV vaccines in that same timeframe. While those numbers are lower, Harkins did say they have been steadily going up over the last two years.

Activities that have reportedly contributed to the increase in HPV vaccination coverage, according to the KDHE, include education for vaccine providers, development of the HPV toolkit by the Immunize Kansas Coalition (funded by the KDHE), partner organizations conducting efforts to increase awareness and importance of the HPV vaccine, etc.

Harkins attested to the education element, noting that the HPV vaccine had a "rough start" when it was first introduced — as it was initially marketed only to females ages 9-11 and there were anecdotal beliefs the vaccine caused major side effects, two things nobody wanted to think about.

Eventually, a new strain of the vaccine was opened up to boys, as well, and in its current form it is meant to help ward of the risks associated with HPV — which Harkins noted causes 98% of cervical, rectal and throat cancer.

"What the HPV vaccine is is a cancer-prevention means because, like I said, most forms of cervical cancer can be prevented with the current HPV vaccine structure," Harkins said.

For the age group studied in the National Immunization survey, the Tdap vaccine is required, as is the MenACWY vaccine (as of this year), but the HPV vaccine is only recommended — something the health department does when teens come in to get the other required vaccines. Those on board with vaccinations usually take all three, and Harkins noted staff is ready to discuss the importance of these vaccinations — including for HPV — for those with concerns.

"There's a lot of people who are very wary of vaccines. Those people, they have their thought process behind their weariness. What I'd like them to know is that we're here for a conversation, too," Harkins said. "If they have questions, want to know where we do our research or how we come up with our efficacy and safety data — even if they're not interested in vaccines or have their minds made up and want to do a little more diligent research on it — we're here to talk to them."

Recommendation from a medical provider is key when it comes to HPV vaccination, as the survey showed that 69.5% of Kansas teens with a recommendation received the vaccination in 2018, while only 35.8% received the vaccination without a provider recommendation.

While those numbers continue to climb, Harkins noted it will take awhile before the health department sees the true impact of the increasing HPV vaccination rates.

Along with the HPV vaccination, MenACWY rates increased in 2018 as well (up to 75.3% from 72.1 percent) , with the KDHE's goal to eventually get 80% coverage of all vaccines.