Monday, June 23, 2014

On Call with Dr. Molly Thomas

Vaccines and Your Teen

Most teens, at this time of year are thinking more about the end of school, graduation, and going to the beach.  As parents, however, what we think about most is keeping them safe.  As you plan the summer and think about your teen's visit for a school physical and forms, keep in mind that teen vaccines are one of the most important ways to keep our children safe.  The following is a summary of some of the most common questions and answers that come up during visits with my teen patients. 

What are the vaccines necessary for teens and pre-teens?

There are 4 vaccines that are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as well as by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
HPV Vaccine:  Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines help protect both boys and girls from both cancers caused by HPV as well as the virus itself.  Girls and boys should begin and finish the vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old. 
Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine: MCV protects against the bacteria that causes meningitis as well as bacterial sepsis.  Meningitis is a very serious and sometimes fatal condition that includes swelling of the brain and spinal cord.  Pre-teens need this vaccine at age 11 or 12 as well as a booster when they are 16. 
Tdap Vaccine:  This vaccine protects against 3 serious infectious diseases; Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis.  Pre-teens should get a booster at age 11 or 12. If your teen did not get one as a pre-teen they should have one now. 
Flu Vaccine: The annual flu vaccine not only protects against the flu virus; it also protects against the health issues that flu causes such as dehydration, worsening of asthma or diabetes for those who suffer those diseases, and even pneumonia. 

Are vaccines safe?
These vaccines are very safe.  Many parents and patients are accustomed to researching information on the internet and can be put off by the unreliable literature that is published there.  It is important to always research medical information at a reputable site that relies on research and scientific data to report findings.  Great sites include and  Side effects caused by vaccines are minimal.  Some children may have mild effects such as redness or soreness in the arm.  Some teens may feel light headed or even faint after vaccines or other medical procedures.  Lying down for a few minutes after shots can help preven this.  Side effects are quite mild compared to the serious disease that they prevent.  

Why do I need to give my teen vaccines and do they really need boosters?
Your child is still not protected from an illness until he or she gets a full course of vaccines.  As our kids go off to camp and to college it is important to realize that they will be living in close quarters with large numbers of people and are very at risk for catching communicable diseases and so we do not want to leave them unprotected. 
Missing a shot or a booster may not seem like a big deal but that little two second "ouch" protects you from illness that have major side effects.  For example, older teens and adults who get mumps can become infertile.  Those who get chickenpox as older teens are more at risk for pneumonia, as well as serious skin infections such as MRSA.  Shots do save lives.  Hepatitis attacks the liver and can ultimately kill.  HPV infection can cause cancer.  1 in 10 people with meningococcal disease will die from it.  The good news is that if you have missed a booster or even a whole series of shots you can simply pick up right where you left off.  Its never too late.   

What if I need help paying for vaccines?
Most insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines.  If you do not have insurance coverage, the Vaccines For Children (VFC) program may be able to help.  Our offices participate in VFC and the program provides vaccines for children up to 18 years who are not insured, underinsured on Medicaid or are American Indian. 
As a final thought, it is important to remember that it is normal to be nervous about getting shots.  If your teen has this problem try to suggest techniques such as deep breathing or coughing as the shot goes in.  The pinch lasts for only a second but the protection lasts a long, long time. 

1. Vaccines for Pre-teens and Teens:  What Parents Should Know.  US Department of Health and Human Services
2. Your Preteens and Teens Need Vaccines Too! CDC Website