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Teen Vaccination Rates Rise In NC

Vaccination rates among North Carolina teens rose significantly last year. WFAE's Julie Rose reports on new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of North Carolina teens getting vaccinated against whooping cough nearly doubled last year - thanks largely to a new state law that requires all sixth graders get a booster shot before school starts. State Health Department spokeswoman Amy Caruso credits a state law that took effect in 2008 requiring all sixth graders to receive a whooping cough booster shot called "T-DAP": "And that was really important because kids were getting the disease around that time," says Amy Caruso of the North Carolina Health Department. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly-contagious respiratory illness caused by bacteria. Pertussis has been on the rise among teens and adults nationwide as public immunity to the infection wanes. Children are initially vaccinated against the disease as infants, but need a booster shot in their teens to maintain immunity. Vaccination rates for HPV jumped double-digits too, and that's not a required shot. The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls starting at the age of 11 or 12 and has been controversial since HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. Still, Mecklenburg County medical director Stephen Keener says people seem to be realizing the vaccine's value. "The unique thing about HPV - it's a virus that is sexually transmitted - however a virus that causes cervical cancer," says Dr. Keener. "So really what we're saying here is we've got a shot that protects against a certain kind of cancer. And that is really unique. And it's a great thing." In 2008, only 34 percent of teenage girls in North Carolina got the HPV vaccine. Last year just over 50 percent received it. Part of the reason may be the millions of dollars drug companies have spent advertising their HPV vaccines. North Carolina's HPV vaccination rate among teen girls was several percentage points higher than the national rate of 44 percent.