Middle schoolers, high schoolers and graduates heading off to college all need to make sure they have the latest fashions and the forms they need to play sports, and for many getting vaccines is another thing on the long list of things to do.
It may not be glamorous, but being protected against cervical cancer, meningitis, whooping cough, hepatitis, and tetanus is important. Here’s the lowdown.
Middle School Vaccines:
Tdap: Around age 11 this tetanus booster is recommended. It contains coverage for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (better known as whooping cough)
Menactra: Around age 11 this vaccine is given for the first time and offers protection against Neisseria meningitidis. This bacteria causes many of the deadly cases of meningitis you read about in teenagers and young adults. This bacteria can cause infection at any age, but because teenagers and young adults spend more time cohorted together at sleep-away camps and in dormatories, the risk is greatest. Under special medical circumstances, this vaccine is approved for chidren as young as 9 months of age.
HPV vaccine: Although approved for girls as young as 9 and boys as young as 11, most healthcare providers are offering the HPV vaccine to students starting during the middle school years. These vaccines (Gardasil for boys or girls and Cervarix for girls only) are designed primarily to prevent genital, anal and oral cancers. They are quite effective if the three-shot series is completed before contact with the virus occurs.
In other words, because contact with the HPV virus can occur from oral sex, or potentially even from kissing someone whoses mouth is colonized following oral sex with someone else can pose a risk, so the earlier you vaccinate your children the better. If you start the vaccine after exposure to the virus has occurred, the vaccine is much less effective at preventing cancer.
I know it seems strange to give a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus to a child not yet in puberty or barely starting, but getting it completely early makes sense. This two or three shot vaccine series (depending on which brand your doctor uses) has been around for a long time and is safe.
Hepatitis A: This vaccine protects against a form of Hepatitis that can be contracted from food as well as from bodily fluids. Most children have received this vaccine when they were younger but a few slipped through the cracks. It’s time to catch them up with this two-shot series, six months apart.
Hepatitis B: This vaccine protects against a form of Hepatitis that commonly causes liver failure or liver cancer in the long run if contracted. You get it from contact with someone who is a silent carrier through blood or bodily fluid contact. This vaccine is required for school entry at a younger age, but if you didn’t get your child vaccinated when they were younger, the risk of exposure is bound to increase as adolescence starts so now is the time to start this three-shot series.
Seasonal Influenza vaccine: This fall all non-egg allergic students should receive the seasonal flu vaccine. Preventing influenza infection through vaccination is easy and safe. Most middle school-aged kids can receive the the vaccine in the form of a nasal mist and not even need a shot to get protected!
High School Students:
Tdap: Around age 16-17 I recommend boosting this vaccine. It’s a little earlier than the typical 7-10 years for tetanus, but with the waning immunity for whooping cough, I am giving this about 5-7 years after the last Tdap in anticipation of college life.
Menactra: Booster dose of this vaccine is recommended at age 16. I give it then or at age 17 at the latest to ensure strong coverage during the early college dorm years.
HPV: If not completed during middle school, getting high school-aged boys and girls vaccinated against the human papilloma virus is a priority. Completing the series prior to the intiation of sexual activity is essential to ensure the best protection.
Hepatitis A and B: See above. Completing these before sexual activity begins is essential.
Seasonal Influenza vaccine: Every fall, making time to get a flu vaccine is a must for back-to-school planning. As you find time for curriculum night, homecoming and football, find time to get your teenager protected against Influenza.
Tdap: Before your students heads off to college for the first time or returns for another year of university life, take the time to assess when their last Tdap was. If it has been 5 years or more, it’s time for a booster.
Seasonal Influenza: Most college students have the opportunity to get the seasonal flu vaccine on campus. Encourage your child to do so. Getting sick with Influenza while in college can derail an entire semester. It makes sense to be protected!