By: Rebekah Fenton, MD, FAAP
Grade-school–aged kids and teens need a number of vaccines to protect them.
The vaccines recommended for kids at around age 9 years until they graduate from high school help prevent major health problems, including infertility, muscle paralysis, brain damage, blindness, deafness and cancer.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other medical groups all agree on the schedule of
recommended immunizations. They recommend these vaccines at specific ages. Why? There are two main reasons:
Because of the pandemic, teens may have fallen behind on some of their immunizations. It is important for them to see their pediatricians. That way they can make sure they are up to date and fully protected.
Here's what to know about the vaccines recommended for preteens, teens and young adults, and the diseases they prevent
Meningococcal: At age 11 or 12, your teen should get their first
meningococcal vaccine. There are two kinds of vaccines to protect against meningococcus.
Meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against 4 types of bacteria which are labeled with the letters A, C, W and Y. Teens get their first dose of this at age 11 or 12 and a booster at age 16.
Meningococcal type B vaccine is another type of meningococcal vaccine. It protects against a different type of the bacteria. This vaccine is available for teens age 16 to 18 years. Men B vaccine is recommended for kids who have certain chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable or those who may be in an area where there's an outbreak. So, it's a good idea to talk with your pediatrician about this vaccine, too, if your teen didn't get other vaccines when they were younger.
Meningococcal: A fast-acting disease
Meningococcal vaccines are given in high school to protect teens from meningococcal disease. The disease is life-threatening if it's not caught and treated early—within a few hours. The disease is caused by bacteria that can affect the bloodstream, brain and spinal cord—and it preys on people between the ages of 15 and 21. Every year, about 1,000 people in the U.S. get meningococcal disease. Infections spread easily in crowded places, especially among high school and college students who live in dorms. Getting the first dose of the vaccine at age 11 and the second dose at age 16 before college protects teens when they're most vulnerable.
Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis: At age 11 or 12, we give a vaccine called
Tdap. This vaccine is a booster to protect against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). It's a slightly different version of a vaccine your child received as a baby (DTaP). The version for teens and adults has a different name because it has lower doses of the diphtheria and pertussis vaccines. (It has the same amount of tetanus vaccine, though.) After your child gets Tdap vaccine at age 11 or 12, they will need a booster every 10 years as an adult as well.
Tetanus is a type of bacteria that naturally lives in the soil or dust. You can be exposed to it through any break in your skin like a cut or puncture wound. Tetanus produces a deadly toxin that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is lockjaw, because it often causes a person's neck and jaw muscles to lock making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. We will never eliminate this bacterium from our world, so the vaccine is the best way to prevent tetanus.
Diphtheria is a disease that causes a serious throat infection, breathing problems and heart failure. Before we had a vaccine, diphtheria killed 1 out of every 5 kids who were infected. The vaccine is a lifesaver.
Pertussis (whooping cough) can cause a cough that won't go away, and sometimes causes vomiting or trouble breathing. The protection your teen got from their childhood vaccine starts to wear off around age 11. That is why a booster is so important. Teens can easily spread the disease to others, including infants, who are at even more risk.
Human papillomavirus (HPV): The HPV vaccine prevents cancer in males and females. The vaccine works better with a child's immune system at age 9-12, so they need just 2 doses. If they don't get the first dose until age 15, they need 3 shots.
HPV causes cervical cancer, penile and anal cancers, cancers of the mouth and throat, and genital warts. The
HPV vaccine works really well to protect against strains of the virus that cause more than 90% of these cancers.
Influenza (flu): The AAP and the CDC recommend the
flu shot for everyone age 6 months and older, including teens, every year. The flu is unpredictable. There is no way to know if your teen will have mild flu illness and miss just a few days of school or if they will get seriously ill and need hospital care. The flu shot is very effective at preventing severe influenza disease that leads to hospitalization.
COVID-19: Millions of people around the world, including teenagers and younger children, have received the COVID-19 vaccine. We know the COVID vaccine is safe and effective. Vaccination is the best way to protect teens from long-term problems if they get sick with COVID. The COVID-19 vaccine can be given
at the same time as the flu vaccine or other vaccines.
Behind on other vaccines?
Now is the time to catch up on recommended immunizations that your teen may have missed. That includes hepatitis A, hepatitis B, polio, pneumococcal vaccine, the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine.
Heading off to college? Some colleges and universities require students to be vaccinated. Check these requirements now, so your teen can be caught up before they go.
These recommended vaccines are the best way to protect teens and give parents peace of mind. Many of them can literally save your teen's life! Sure, getting a shot may hurt for a moment—but the protection from serious disease lasts a very long time.
About Dr. Fenton:
Rebekah Fenton, MD, FAAP, is an adolescent medicine fellow at Lurie Children's Hospital at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago.