Vaccinations vital for teens as they head back to school

Vaccines for teensAs summer comes to a close, parents are getting their preteens and teens ready for back-to-school, from stocking up on pencils, notebooks and new clothes, to preparing for their busy fall schedules. But what’s also important to add to the list, is making sure teens are up-to-date on their recommended vaccinations.

As kids grow up, protection from certain childhood vaccines begins to wear off. Teens may also be exposed to different diseases than they were when they were younger. Therefore, it’s important for parents to know what vaccines can protect their kids, their schoolmates and our communities from unnecessary illness.

Ed Marcuse, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has a special interest in immunizations and wants parents to know that today’s vaccines are a very safe and effective way to prevent the infections that teens are at risk of contracting.

Here is some important information Marcuse wants parents to be aware of when thinking about vaccinations for their preteens and teens.

What parents need to know: Immunizations for preteens and teens

Since 2005, three new vaccines have been recommended for kids starting at age 11.

A Tdap booster shot, protecting against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), should be given to preteens between the ages of 11 and 12, as well as any teen age 13 to 18 who hasn’t ever received a dose since age 5. Marcuse said a stint with pertussis, sometimes called the 100-day cough, can ruin a school year and spread infection to others.

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4)
This vaccine protects against four types of meningococcal meningitis, a potentially deadly infection covering the brain and spinal cord. The first dose of the vaccine is recommended at age 11 or 12, followed by a booster shot between ages 16 and 18. MCV4 is especially important for teens living in close quarters with other young people, such as those going off to college.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
All HPV vaccines protect against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. HPV is spread during sexual contact and can cause cervical, penile, anal and head and neck cancers, and can also cause genital warts. The HPV infection usually has no symptoms so people can’t tell they have it, but with the vaccination, they can be protected against it.

The vaccine is given in two doses to boys and girls starting between ages 11 and 12 years old, and can be given up to age 26. The second shot is given six to twelve months after the first. If your teen is older than 14 years and hasn’t had any HPV vaccine yet, they will need three shots over six months. The HPV infection is commonly acquired within a couple of months after the start of sexual activity, so for best protection, it’s important to get both shots well before the onset of sexual activity. Marcuse said completing the series is half the battle for parents, so it’s important parents keep track of when the next dose is due.

HPV: A preventative health issue

According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and about 79 million Americans are infected with virus. About 14 million people become newly infected each year and nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.

Each year in the U.S., about 19,000 cancers caused by HPV occur in women, with cervical cancer being the most common. About 8,000 cancers caused by HPV occur each year in men in the U.S. and oropharyngeal cancers are the most common.

Marcuse says that while most teens are getting their Tdap and MCV4 vaccines, unfortunately many parents decline to get their children the HPV vaccine. The CDC confirms that through 2012, only one-third of teen girls are up to date on their HPV shots.

“Vaccinating your child can be the single most important thing you can do to protect their health,” said Marcuse. “The HPV vaccination provides durable, reliable protection against an infection that can lead to cancer.”

A study in Pediatrics asked parents why their teens weren’t being vaccinated against HPV. What they found was that parents believed that the vaccine was not necessary, their child was not sexually active, or they were concerned with the safety and possible side effects of the vaccine.

Marcuse said that some parents may also ask, “Will this give my child permission to engage in sexual activity?”

“There is no evidence whatsoever that administering the HPV vaccine to a teen affects their decision making about sex,” said Marcuse. “If parents have concerns that the HPV vaccine predisposes sexual activity, I would provide them with studies showing that this is not the case.”

Of note, studies in both Pediatrics and the American Journal of Preventative Medicine have found that that the HPV vaccination is not associated with increased sexual activity in teens.

The goal of the HPV vaccination is to protect a child against HPV before he or she becomes sexually active. The recommended age of 11 years old to receive the vaccination isn’t to say a child is ready or about to be sexually active, but it allows enough time for them to receive both doses and develop protection from an infection that could, albeit years later, cause cancer.

The flu: Get the vaccine now

Another important vaccine parents should consider for their kids and teens (and for themselves) during back-to-school season is the influenza (flu) vaccine, which everyone who is at least six months of age should get each and every year. Getting the vaccine is especially important for kids with asthma or diabetes to decrease their risk of serious complications from the flu. Marcuse said the flu vaccine should be given as soon as it’s available each year, but certainly before Thanksgiving and the onset of the flu season.


If you’d like to arrange an interview with Dr. Marcuse, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at [email protected]