Babies? Of course. Toddlers? Naturally. But parents may not know that immunization is just as important for adolescents.
School-aged kids, including adolescents, should have yearly visits with the pediatrician. No one likes getting shots, but several vaccines are routine during this phase of life and when you understand the diseases they prevent – such as meningitis, certain cancers, tetanus, and whooping cough -- most parents are eager to provide this protection for their teens. The hassle of coming in for a visit and having arm pain from vaccination seem pretty minor when compared to the suffering caused by these diseases.
Staying on Schedule
The CDC's recommended vaccination schedule begins at birth and continues throughout adolescence and adulthood. Parents and pediatricians usually find that sticking to this schedule is ideal for three reasons:
- We want adolescents to receive their vaccines before the greatest risk of exposure to the diseases
- It is at an age when the vaccine is covered by insurance (private and public)
- They are most likely to still be visiting the doctor with their parents (who are needed for vaccine consent).
For some families, staying on schedule with adolescent immunizations isn't easy. They may only bring their busy adolescent in for required visits needed to participate in school, sports, work, or other activities. Other than that, they may expect to see their pediatrician solely for sick visits.
We can now prevent serious diseases that used to be human scourges. Use your child's birthday as a reminder to take him in for an annual checkup and ask what vaccines he needs. Timely vaccination is one of the most powerful ways of protecting your child.
The Teen Vaccines
- Tdap: One of the vaccines scheduled for children in the 11- to 12-year-old age group is a very familiar one for most parents: Tdap, the tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis vaccine. This booster dose builds on the childhood DTP/DTaP vaccination. Tdap is also important for older adolescents and adults who have not received the Tdap vaccine before. A pregnant woman should receive this vaccine to protect her newborn.
- Meningococcal: This vaccine prevents the potentially deadly bacterial meningitis. While it causes newsworthy outbreaks among college students, military recruits, and youths going to sleep-away summer camp, this bacteria usually strikes sporadically. In fact, it spreads wherever people live in close quarters. The vaccine is routinely recommended for children ages 11 to 18 who have not been vaccinated previously, and is also recommended for some younger children in high-risk categories. One booster dose is recommended.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): This vaccine gives parents the opportunity to prevent several forms of cancer. See below for more information.
- Influenza: As with most other age groups, adolescents need protection from the flu. The influenza viruses can make adolescents and the people they live with very sick. Every year, more than 200,000 Americans have to be hospitalized because of the flu and its complications, and 36,000 die. An annual influenza vaccine is an important part of protecting your children.
Teens in certain high-risk categories may need other vaccines. Teens who didn't receive all their routine immunizations when younger need catch-up vaccines. Talk with your pediatrician about what vaccines your child needs.
Keeping HPV at Bay
Although tens of millions of US adolescents have received HPV vaccine, some parents still have concerns about giving the HPV vaccine to their adolescent. Key facts for parents to understand include the following:
- Key #1: It's ideal to get the vaccine when you're very young. HPV vaccine prevents HPV cancers by preventing infection. The vaccine does not rid the body of the virus once the infection is established. Immunization is most effective when given to patients in the 11- to 13- age group, but older teens who haven't yet received the vaccine can usually benefit from the vaccine, too.
- Key #2: Vaccinated adolescents are just as likely to wait to have sex as un-vaccinated adolescents. HPV vaccination is not associated with early sexual activity in adolescents. Most experts agree that the best ways to help your adolescent deal with the pressures and challenges of sexuality are based in your honest, ongoing communication with your adolescent.
- Key #3: Since HPV is often transmitted during sex and my child is likely to get married someday, she/he needs the vaccine. At some point most people are exposed HPV and the vaccine will protect them when that day comes. For example, a young woman who waits until marriage before first having intercourse may have a husband who is an HPV carrier and without knowing it. The husband may expose his unvaccinated wife to HPV.
Taking an Active Role in Teen Vaccination
- Be sure your teen makes it to all his routine well-child visits.
- If there are financial considerations that are preventing you from taking your teen in for well-child visits and immunization, talk with your pediatrician about the issue. Many young people are eligible for vaccination at no cost.
- When you see your pediatrician, ask directly, 'What vaccines does my child need today?'
- If you have questions about adolescent vaccines, ask them. Some parents find it helpful to write down questions before the visit.
- Keep a record of your child's immunizations and bring it in to the visit to be updated. Some clinics and health care organizations now keep automated records, which minimize delays in checking records. Also, many state keep an immunization registry that can serve the same purpose.