What you need to know about vaccines for tweens and teens
The vaccinations they need decrease, but teens and tweens need protection from a different set of diseases
Parents are full of advice for their teens and tweens when it comes to being safe: Be careful who you talk to on the internet, buckle your seatbelt, wear your helmet, don’t eat something weird on a dare.
We give the warnings then sit back, cross our fingers, and hope it’s enough to keep our growing babies safe. But there is something else more concrete that parents can do to protect them, according to health officials — remember to get them vaccinated in their tween and teen years.
While the number of recommended vaccines for children decrease after age 6, health officials say that at around age 11 it’s time to get your tweens and teens back to their doctor.
Dr. Sandra Truebe, a pediatrician with Doctor’s Park Pediatrics in Manchester, said adolescents should first be up to date with their early childhood immunizations, which includes the vaccine against Hepatitis A, an infection passed through food and drink.
“[There’s] a current outbreak in New Hampshire,” Dr. Truebe said. “Teens may not have received this yet because it has been given to children between 1 and 2 years old since 2006, but some teens may not have received it if they were older than 2 in 2006.”
In addition to catching up on childhood vaccinations they may have missed, the Centers for Disease Control recommend these vaccines
For ages 11-12:
- Influenza (Flu) — every year
- Meningococcal (MenACWY) — one dose
- HPV — two doses within 12 months
- Tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis) (Tdap) —
For ages 13-18:
- Influenza (Flu) — every year
- HPV — if not already vaccinated; a three-dose series is needed for ages 15 and older
- A booster dose of Meningococcal (MenACWY) given at 16 years old; and Serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) (Bexsero® or Trumenba®) may be given at age 16 to 23 years or as early as age 10 if recommended by a pediatrician.
Truebe said the vaccines that young children have had for this (DTaP) have worn off by adolescence. There is good reason these days to be on top of this vaccine since it is, “unfortunately, seen more commonly again now,” she said.
“Although the [pertussis] vaccine isn’t perfect, it does provide the best protection available,” Truebe said.
“Pertussis is also known as the ‘100 day cough,’ but since early symptoms are the same as cold symptoms — runny nose, cough, low grade fever — it is typically not recognized as such until two to four weeks into the illness, at which time antibiotic treatment no longer shortens the course of the cough, and others will have been exposed.”
Truebe said pertussis can be life-threatening for older adults and for infants, who will not be fully protected until the 15-month dose. For others, it causes a “miserable” three-month cough that can lead to rib fractures and that interferes with sleep, school and life, she said.
Meningitis and meningococcal disease
Meningitis is an infection of the covering around the brain and spinal cord (the meninges). Bacterial meningitis is a dangerous infection that, although rare, can be deadly within hours of symptom onset. According to the CDC, bacteria are transmitted to others by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions during close or lengthy contact.
Rates of this disease have been declining in the United States since the late 1990s. There were only 350 cases of the disease reported in 2017 giving it an incidence rate of .11 cases per 100,000 people. While anyone can get this disease, the CDC said that the rates are highest in children younger than 1 and adolescents and young adults ages 16 to 23.
Meningococcal disease can be deadly. Ten to 15 out of 100 infected people will die and up to one in five survivors will have long-term disabilities that include long of limbs, deafness, nervous system problems and brain damage, according to the CDC.
Truebe said the vaccines given in adolescence protect against Neisseria Meningitidis, which is most commonly seen in adolescents and college-age youth. At 11 or 12, youth are given a vaccine to protect against four of the five strains of N Meningitidis Groups A, C, Y and W-135. (Menactra, Menveo or Meomune).
The HPV vaccine protects against the Human Papilloma Virus. Truebe said the current vaccine protects against nine different strains, including the strains of HPV that cause 90% of cervical cancer and abnormal PAP smears, and 90% of genital warts.
HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact and is contracted typically through sex with someone who has the virus, according to the CDC.
Truebe said the HPV vaccine has been widely studied and as of March 2014 more than 60 million doses had been administered in the United States.
HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Nearly 80 million Americans, are infected with some type of HPV and about 14 million Americans including teens, become infected each year, according to the CDC.
“Although nine of 10 HPV infections will go away by themselves within two years,” Truebe said, “HPV infections can last longer and cause cervical, penile, oral and anal cancers.”
Every year in the United States, HPV causes 33,700 cases of cancer in men and women. For the vaccine to be most effective, the CDC recommends that the doses be given prior to exposure to HPV. Which is why, they say, it’s recommended for adolescents to ensure that children are protected long before they are ever exposed to the virus.
Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about vaccinating your child.
For an easy-to-read immunization schedule chart, go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules.
Melanie Plenda is an award-winning freelance journalist and mom based in Keene. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic.com, The Daily Beast, American Baby, and Parents.com among other media outlets. She’s also the project manager for the Granite State News Collaborative.