Call the Shots on Teen Vaccines
By Joyce Heid
When your child is an infant or toddler, keeping up with childhood vaccines becomes routine. As your child enters adolescence, however, it may be easy to lose track of what shots he or she still may need.
As children approach adulthood, the protection provided by some vaccines received in early childhood can weaken or wear off. Children may also be at greater risk for some diseases as they enter their teen years. For these reasons, it is vital teenagers receive the recommended vaccinations.
Do not assume that your child has received all the recommended vaccinations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 35 million teenagers in the United States are missing one or more doses of vaccines that they should have received in childhood. Contact your teen’s physician to be sure everything is up to date.
New Vaccine Schedule
For teenagers today, several new vaccines have been developed in recent years and have been added to the vaccine schedule.
Dr. Josh Sharfstein, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, describes, “Everyone expects small children to need vaccines. That same expectation is not there for adolescents. Since there is so much benefit from some of these new vaccines, it’s worth it for parents to adapt.”
There are three vaccinations the Center for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend beginning at your child’s 11- to 12-year-old check-up: Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap); Meningococcal vaccine (MCV4); and the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine series (for young women).
The diseases these vaccinations protect against are not eradicated and still make many people sick every year. For example, though tetanus is more common outside of the United States, it still exists here—and 30 percent of those infected with it each year will die from it. The bacteria, which cause infection by entering the body through a wound, such as a scratch, cut, or puncture are found everywhere, usually in soil, dust, and manure.
The HPV vaccine protects against cervical cancer. While the PAP test has dramatically decreased the number of fatalities over the last few decades, the fact remains—about 4000 women die from cervical cancer in the United States each year. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths for women worldwide.
Studies indicate that most cervical cancers are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). It is the most frequently sexually transmitted disease in the United States. The HPV vaccine is recommended for young girls, because it is most effective if given before they are sexually active and possibly exposed to and infected by the virus.
Meningococcal disease is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children ages 2 through 18 in the United States. Meningitis is an infection of fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. It also causes blood infections.
College freshmen who live in dormitories have an increased risk of meningitis. Each year in the United States, about 2600 people are infected. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of these people will die, in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Of those who survive, close to 20 percent will suffer lifelong complications. These can include the loss of arms or legs, deafness, problems with their nervous systems, mental retardation, and seizures or strokes.
Despite the known risk of severe illness or death, millions of teenagers have not received their vaccinations. Sharfstein feels that the biggest hurdle to overcoming the lack of compliance is education.
“If parents really understood how their adolescents could avoid serious diseases like meningitis and cervical cancer through vaccination, I think that many of the other barriers could be overcome.” BC
Vaccine Schedule at a Glance
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices currently recommends these three vaccines beginning with your child’s 11- 12-year-old check-up (or as soon as possible if your child is older).
Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap)
Meningococcal vaccine (MCV4)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine series
Additionally, all teenagers and college students should have completed the following vaccine series. Again, if your child has not received these vaccines they should be administered as soon as possible.
Hepatitis B vaccine series
Polio vaccine series
Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine series
Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine series
Influenza vaccine (done annually)
Pneumococcal polysaccharid (PPV) vaccine
Hepatitis A vaccine series
For more information, visit the website www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/teen-schedule.htm.
Free Vaccines Available
Through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, vaccinations are available for free for eligible children, including teenagers up to 18 years old. All recommended childhood shots/vaccines are provided by VFC. (You may have to pay a small administrative fee, but there is no charge for the vaccine.) Teens can receive the vaccines provided by the program at their pediatrician’s office, clinics, hospitals, public health clinics, and community health clinics.
Children 18 years of age and under must meet at least one of the following criteria to be eligible:
Uninsured, or a child who has no health insurance coverage.
American Indian or Alaska Native, as defined by the Indian Health Services Act.
Underinsured. Underinsured children are defined as those children who have health insurance, but their coverage does not include vaccines. Underinsured children are eligible to receive VFC vaccines only if they are served by a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) or Rural Health Clinic (RHC).
For more information, contact your pediatrician, your local health department, or the National Immunization Program by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, visit the website, www.cdc.gov/nip/.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. 2008