In the area of public health, each year’s focus is different because of either scientific progress or unforeseen circumstances, such as disease outbreaks. Those who work in public health can often recall specific progress or situations that shaped how they spent their workdays — 2015 was no exception. Here are some of the vaccine-related stories of 2015.
The struggle to increase human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine rates is not new. HPV vaccine rates still lag behind other vaccines recommended during adolescence (specifically, Tdap and quadrivalent meningococcus). According to the 2014 National Immunization Survey, four of 10 adolescent girls and six of 10 adolescent boys have not started the HPV vaccine series. Public health officials have been working tirelessly to help parents and their teens realize the opportunity to prevent cancer afforded by this vaccine.
In the midst of those efforts, a new HPV vaccine became available for use. The HPV-9 vaccine (Gardasil-9) affords greater protection against cancers of the head, neck, anal and genital areas by protecting against nine types of HPV instead of two or four as in previous vaccines. The better vaccine means it is more important than ever to ensure that our teens are protected against this sometimes deadly virus.
Q&A sheet: HPV [PDF, 303KB]
A Look at Each Vaccine: HPV
Serogroup B meningococcal vaccines
In the past few years, meningococcus outbreaks on college campuses have been in the news on several occasions. In fact, since 2013, outbreaks of meningococcal B have been reported on at least four campuses (University of Oregon, Providence College, Princeton University, and University of California, Santa Barbara). At the time of these outbreaks, meningococcal vaccines that protect against four of the five types of meningococcus (A, C, W and Y) were available. Unfortunately, because of difficulties developing a meningococcal B vaccine, students were not protected against the outbreak strain. As the concerns grew, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the unprecedented decision to allow use of one version of the vaccine already licensed in other countries to stem the outbreaks.
Fortunately, in January 2015, two meningococcal B vaccines were licensed in the U.S. This means that adolescents and teens can now be protected against all five types of meningococcus.
Q&A sheet: Meningococcus [PDF, 394KB]
A Look at Each Vaccine: Meningococcal Vaccine
Video: Meningococcus Vaccine - Why Do College Students Need It?
Vaccine exemption laws
At the beginning of 2015, the United States was in the midst of a measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland in Orange County, CA. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from Jan. 1 to July 24, 183 cases of measles occurred. Of those, 117 were linked to the Disneyland outbreak. The outbreak served as a catalyst for legislation to increase child vaccine coverage. By the end of June, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277 into law, removing personal beliefs as reasons parents could exempt their children from mandatory school vaccination (California never had a religious exemption to vaccinations.) In addition, states like Vermont tightened the parameters required to obtain exemptions and eliminated exemptions citing personal beliefs.
Did You Know: Vaccine exemptions map
As public health officials look back on 2015, they will likely remember the new vaccines, the outbreaks and the changes to the exemption laws. And while there are certain to be changes in the year ahead, we cannot know what forces of nature like viruses and bacteria have in store. Yet we can rest assured that our public health officials will be watching and ready for the challenge.