Vaccines for teens: An update

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Many people believe vaccines are for infants and young children only, because doctors and nurses are extremely concerned about the youngest children being protected from serious diseases and outbreaks of those diseases. As children get older, the protection they received from earlier childhood vaccinations can wear off and put older children at risk for more diseases as they approach their teen years. For these reasons, older children - including teens - need to receive recommended vaccinations.

The vaccines recommended for adolescents include the combination tetanus-diptheria-pertussis, human papillomavirus and meningococcal vaccines. In addition, a yearly influenza vaccine is recommended for all children ages 6 months to 18 years of age.


Pertussis - or whooping cough - is a very contagious bacterial disease which spreads easily from person-to-person by respiratory droplets. Whooping cough can cause prolonged and severe attacks of coughing which can lead to vomiting, weight loss, sleeplessness, encephalitis and even death. The disease is generally more severe in infants but adolescents may have severe symptoms and miss several days of school. Children are vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, with the last dose given between 4-6 years of age, but protection wanes 5 to 10 years after vaccination making the adolescent population susceptible to whooping cough. Adolescents can then transmit the disease to others, including not yet fully immunized infants. In 2004, adolescents accounted for nearly 40 percent of pertussis cases. Most outbreaks occur as a result of school contact; several outbreaks have been documented in Columbus area schools.

The adolescent tetanus-diptheria-pertussis booster vaccine is recommended at 11-12 years of age. "Catch up" vaccinations to older adolescents are equally important to diminish the reservoir of disease. Some pain and swelling at the site of the injection, and occasionally fever, can be expected with this vaccination.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

There are close to 100 types of papillomaviruses capable to infect humans. Some of these viruses cause infections in male and female genital organs. Changes caused by papillomaviruses may lead to precancerous lesions of the cervix in women which may progress to cervical cancer. In the United States each year, an estimated 8,000 women develop cervical cancer. By 50 years of age, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital papilloma virus infection. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is acquired through sexual contact.

An HPV vaccine is approved in the U.S. and is recommended to be given to girls between 11-12 years of age for the prevention of the four most common types of HPV which have been associated with cervical cancer and genital warts. Catch up vaccinations, for those not previously vaccinated, are recommended for females up to 26 years of age. The vaccine is given in a series of three doses. Because HPV vaccine is a vaccine to prevent, and not to treat HPV infections already present, it is best administered before sexual activity begins.

Meningococcal Conjugate vaccine

Infections caused by several types of the bacterium known as meningococcus are uncommon but the consequences can be serious and life-threatening. At the onset, meningococcal infections, such as meningitis, may be similar to viral infections, including fever, headache and muscle pain, rash and may rapidly progress to shock and mental confusion. Meningococcal infections are more common in certain populations including infants and freshman living in college dormitories. A vaccine which prevents infections caused by four strains of meningococcus is available in the U.S. This vaccine, known as meningococcal conjugate vaccine, is recommended for all children at 11-12 years of age. Again, as with the other two vaccines, a catch up vaccination is recommended.

Two-week series

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