Ensure a healthy future for teens and preteens with vaccination
By Mary Wade Triplett
There are so many sights, sounds and scenes to take in this fall. And that is all the more reason to remember that preteens and teens still need vaccines, especially as they gather together with school friends for classes and sports and with extended family members around the holidays.
Preteens and teens need four vaccines to protect against serious diseases. They are:
• Meningococcal conjugate vaccine to protect against meningitis and blood infections, or septicemia, caused by specific bacteria entering the bloodstream.
• HPV, or human papillomavirus vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV.
• Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, more formally known as pertussis.
• A yearly flu vaccine to protect against seasonal flu.
Let’s break each one of those down. Meningococcal disease is uncommon, but sometimes deadly. It can cause very serious infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, which is meningitis, or blood, known as septicemia.
Meningococcal disease can spread from person to person. The bacteria that cause this infection can spread when people have close or lengthy contact with someone’s saliva, like through kissing or coughing, especially if they are in close quarters, such as locker rooms and dormitories. This puts teens and young adults at increased risk for meningococcal disease.
There are two types of vaccines used to help protect preteens and teens from meningococcal disease. The CDC recommends all children 11 and 12 years old to be vaccinated with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) and with a booster dose at age 16 so they continue to have protection during the ages when they are at highest risk of meningococcal disease. Then, teens and young adults ages 16 through 23 may also receive the serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine, preferably at 16 through 18 years old.
Around the age of 11 or 12 is also when kids should receive their first vaccines to protect them against HPV. HPV is an incredibly common infection. About 79 million people in the United States, many of them teenagers and young adults, have HPV. Luckily, most cases of HPV go away. Those that do not can lead to cancer. Every year, HPV causes 31,000 cancers in women and men. The HPV vaccine protects against types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancers and many cases of other cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina and oropharynx, or the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils.
It is recommended that children get the vaccine at the age of 11 or 12, long before they become sexually active. However, older teens and even young adults can still gain some protection from the HPV vaccine.
The other two vaccines are ones that everyone should be familiar with at this age and that are also good to receive into adulthood. Tdap is especially important for anyone who will be around babies younger than 1 year old. That’s because babies experience the most severe whooping cough symptoms—sometimes leading to hospitalization and death—and they also aren’t fully protected against it until they have completed their DTaP vaccinations, the recommended inoculation against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis for children under the age of 6 years old.
Finally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that just about everybody over the age of 6 months get a flu shot annually, ideally before the end of October. It is especially important for young children and children of all ages with certain chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, for example, to get vaccinated to decrease their chances of having serious illness and complications from the flu.
Flu vaccines are needed periodically not only because protection wanes over time, but the strains of influenza can change each season. Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. Some cases of flu can be serious enough to require hospitalization or even result in death.
Getting these vaccines help ensure that your child can continue to participate in all the sports and school activities that are popular this time of year without interruption. Vaccines are the safest and most effective way to prevent several diseases. They are thoroughly tested and carefully monitored even after they are licensed. Feel free to discuss vaccines with your child’s doctor, taking advantage of visits for sports, camp or college physicals for information on vaccines your child needs. And feel free to contact the Monongalia County Health Department at 304-598-5119.