Duke University researchers trying to figure out how to improve immunization rates among women concluded that incorporating them into a visit to the gynecologist is a smart idea. They set up a pilot program at three North Carolina ob-gyn offices to offer vaccinations against human papillomavirus and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
The program boosted rates of HPV vaccination, but its shining success was for the percentage of women who accepted the so-called Tdap shot. In one office, preliminary data shows, vaccination rates among postpartum patients soared, from 16.7 percent to 85.7 percent.
Rates of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, have been on the rise in recent years. As the CDC notes in its information about pertussis: "More than half of infants less than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized." Often, the illness can be traced to siblings or adults who don't even know they're infected.
The results shouldn't surprise, except for the fact that such vaccinations aren't more common. An obstetrician-gynecologist is often the one physician whom female patients see with any regularity.
Even women not seeking prenatal or postpartum care are diligent about the annual visit. For that, thank the Pap test. An earlier L.A. Times story calls the test the most successful cancer screen in history. It notes that the test fueled awareness of women's sexual and reproductive health and that it's the reason some women get such preventive medical care.
Preliminary findings of the women's immunization study were presented in April at the CDC National Immunization Conference. To see Duke University Medical Center's news release on the pilot program, A Vaccine Program for Women, go to www.dukehealth.org/ and look under News.