In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) committed to raising the proportion of adults getting vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, shingles and hepatitis B. Since then the National Adult Vaccination Program and others have proposed strategies, but the latest data shows little change in immunization rates.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave an update on vaccination rates after delving into the details of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. A few positives emerge from the data. CDC reports a 5-percentage-point rise in women aged 19 to 26 years old receiving a human papillomavirus vaccine, such as Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil. Merck was the beneficiary and driver of another increase, with the resolution of its Zostavax supply problems leading to an uptick in people getting vaccinated against shingles.
Overall, though, there was little improvement, and vaccination rates even fell in some demographics. Lenox Hill Hospital pulmonary specialist Dr. Len Horovitz called the vaccination rates "depressingly low." In an interview with HealthDay, Horovitz said: "Mythology surrounding vaccination is the greatest obstacle. In spite of all the press about the rise of whooping cough, for instance, patients still may refuse vaccination." The tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine that protects against whooping cough was one area in which CDC reported "modest gains."
Yet even these gains contained a negative, with the racial gap in Tdap immunization rates widening. The same trend was seen in shingles and HPV. Rates among black and Hispanic populations were lower across the board, despite vaccine education initiatives targeting these groups. While the success of strategies started to meet the HHS Healthy People 2020 adult vaccination goals are unlikely to become clear for several years, the scale of the challenge is already evident. Pneumococcal vaccination rates among high-risk adults aged 19 to 64 must increase 200% by 2020, for example.