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Protect Your Teens

4 vaccines you might not know your child needs

Your children were vaccinated a lot when they were young, and those shots have helped protect them from disease. You probably think you’re done with immunizations. But there are some vaccines your teenagers should get to make sure they stay healthy because some illnesses become a bigger threat as children grow. Ask your pediatrician about later childhood shots, because he or she might not be as proactive about these.

HPV. The human papillomavirus, or HPV vaccine, protects against viruses that cause genital warts and cancers of the cervix, anus, penis, mouth or throat. Health professionals recommend that all teens—girls and boys—have three doses, but federal health officials say most still don’t get them. And there’s a newer HPV vaccine. The current ones protect against either two or four strains of HPV; the newer vaccine protects against nine different strains, including types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58, which cause about 15 percent of cervical cancers. Mixing the vaccines is OK, so if your child started on one of the older vaccines, the three-shot series can be finished with the new one.

Meningitis. All teens should be vaccinated against bacteria that causes meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is a serious manifestation of infection with Neisseria meningitides bacteria, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It’s a serious infection, killing one in 10 of those infected. Another 20 percent are left with severe disabilities, including amputations. If your child got one dose at age 11 or 12, she should get a second dose when she reaches high school age—about 16. Though rare, meningitis can spread through casual contact, like kissing or sharing food and drinks.

Tdap. The combined tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is the adult version of Dtap, the shot all kids got in elementary school. This is an important booster, because teens are still at risk for whooping cough, and Dtap wears off over time. Pregnant women should also get Tdap because it can protect their newborn until the baby is old enough to get vaccinated. Tdap also help prevent tetanus, a toxic bacteria that is transmitted through cuts or wounds (like stepping on a rusty nail). The infection can cause painful muscle spasms, breathing problems, paralysis and even death.

Influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone ages 6 and older get a flu shot every year. This is because the flu virus changes every year. If your preteen has diabetes or asthma, this is especially important, since the flu is more dangerous for them. Teens can get a shot or, for the needle phobic, the nasal spray.

No matter your child’s age, you should keep track of his immunization record and talk to your pediatrician, since the recommendations change frequently. Don’t worry if your child is more than a month behind on her vaccines; she can catch up. Don’t let cost stop you from keeping your child protected. The Affordable Care Act requires all insurers, public and private, to pay for ACIP-recommended vaccines without a co-pay. And the Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines free of charge to children without insurance. More than 40,000 clinics and pediatricians’ offices are enrolled in this program.


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