Vaccines have received some bad press in recent years. Certain celebrities and icons have spoken out against them, and some parents even choose to homeschool their children in order to avoid vaccinations.
This line of thinking is misguided, and puts many people at risk, including those who do take the right precautions to get vaccinated.
What are the benefits of vaccines?
Vaccines are important for two reasons. First, they protect vaccinated people from disease. Second, they provide what is known as “herd immunity.” This means that when most people are vaccinated against a certain disease, even people who can’t be vaccinated receive some protection. Herd immunity keeps the disease from getting into the community because so many people are immune to it.
Why are teenagers at risk?
Teenagers have a lot going on. Many move into group living situations, like college dorms or military barracks. These kinds of living quarters can become a breeding ground for disease. Other teens may become sexually active, putting them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
Some vaccines need to be kept current at all ages. DTaP, for example, is a vaccine received in childhood that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis or whooping cough.
The flu vaccine is also needed every year. This is because it is developed based on the most common strains of flu every season. Other vaccines, such as the HPV and meningitis vaccines, are particularly important for teenagers because of their age and changing life situations.
The meningococcal conjugate vaccine, or MCV4, protects against a certain bacterium that causes meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis is very dangerous, and is the most common cause of meningitis outbreaks in boarding schools and college dorms.
Keeping teens vaccinated can help ensure that this life-threatening disease doesn’t sweep through large groups of people. MCV4 is recommended around the age of 11 or 12, and a booster is recommended at age 16.
Teenagers who missed the first dose of MCV4 should get the vaccine at age 16. This is especially important for teenagers who are about to move into close quarters, such as a college dormitory or military barracks. A pediatrician or a family practice doctor can administer the vaccine at the appropriate times.
The HPV vaccine protects against the human papillomavirus, a leading cause of certain types of cancer. Because this virus is spread through sexual contact and is widely known to cause cervical cancer, some people still think that the vaccine is only for young women. The truth is that it also causes genital warts and cancer of the anus, and is dangerous to both young women and men.
Two vaccines are available. Cervarix is only for girls, and protects against cervical cancer. Gardasil is for both boys and girls, and protects against genital warts and some types of cancer. In both cases, three doses should be received before the person becomes sexually active. The first dose is usually given around the age of 11 or 12.
What you can do
Make sure your child continues to receive medical checkups during their teenage years. Their doctor can make sure that they stay up-to-date on all recommended vaccinations, help you understand which vaccines are needed, and discuss the importance of getting vaccinated.