We know that our children need vaccinations when they are babies
to protect against dangerous diseases like hepatitis, measles, and mumps, but
did you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also
recommends three crucially important vaccinations for adolescents starting as
early as 11 years old? These vaccinations protect against the human papilloma
virus (HPV), tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap), and meningococcal disease.
Teens have a lot going on with school, extracurricular
activities and social engagements - and each of these things surrounds them
with peers constantly, meaning they are at increased risk of exposure to many
easily transmitted diseases. Thankfully, the risk of these diseases can be
avoided through proper vaccination.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the
United States, with about 14 million new cases each year. While most people
with HPV never develop symptoms, some infections can last longer and lead to
serious health problems. HPV causes cancer in more than 30 thousand men and
women every year, whether it be cervical, penile or anal cancer (which usually
don’t show symptoms until very late stages), but the vaccine can prevent most
of these cancers from occurring.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen boys and girls
starting at age 11 or 12, regardless of whether they have reached puberty, so
they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus. The HPV vaccine also
produces a higher immune response in preteens than in older adolescents, so
it’s more effective if you receive it at a younger age.
Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping cough)
are rare but very serious diseases. Pertussis spreads very easily through
coughing and sneezing. It can cause a bad cough that makes someone gasp for air
after coughing fits. This cough can last for many weeks, which can make
preteens and teens miss school and other activities.
The CDC recommends getting the Tdap vaccine at 11 or 12 years
old. Pertussis can be deadly for babies who are too young to receive the
vaccine. Often babies get whooping cough from their older brothers or sisters,
like preteens or teens, or other family members. Unvaccinated teens could also
pose a risk to children they are babysitting or younger children they encounter
The meningococcal vaccine prevents diseases caused by
meningococcus bacteria that are often severe and can be deadly. Meningococcal
disease is spread by contact with secretions (saliva or spit) from the nose and
throat. Kissing, sharing silverware, drinking directly from the same container,
coughing, and having close social contact (living in the same household) are
examples of how this disease spreads. Therefore, the CDC recommends that all 11
to 12 year olds should get this vaccine.
The good news
Each of these vaccines is simple to get. As part of the
Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to cover the cost
of preventative health services like vaccines. The best way to remember to get
your teen all of the shots they need is to make an appointment for the
remaining shots before you leave the doctor’s office or clinic.
Once your family gets vaccinated, you’ll be in good
company. Rhode Island is a national leader in adolescent vaccinations.
For example, after Rhode Island began mandating the HPV vaccination for
entrance to 7th grade in 2015, 78 percent of
adolescents have received the vaccination – the highest rate in the nation.
It’s important for teens to keep up with the recommended vaccine
schedule to ensure a healthy future. Together, we can build on Rhode Island’s
successes around vaccines to make sure our communities stay healthy.