Immunizations protect the health of infants and children, but they’re equally as important for teenagers. Young adults are at risk for over a dozen vaccine-preventable diseases, including meningitis B and HPV.

“Teenagers need an annual exam. I think it’s the most important phase of life. So many things are changing for them, physically and emotionally, and they have a lot of big thoughts in their heads,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.

Meningoccocal disease
Dr. Bradshaw encourages parents to make sure their teens are up to date on their immunizations, including the meningococcal B vaccine. Meningococcal disease is a potentially deadly bacterial infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal B is easily spread in crowded dorms or in enclosed areas where young people gather.

“The meningococcal B vaccine is now recommended for all college-bound or military-bound kids. Any young adult going to an institutional setting, where they’re going to be living, going to school or being around people, needs that shot,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

She also strongly encourages teens to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It causes virtually all cervical cancer, as well as other types of cancer that affect both females and males.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices now says that girls and boys who start the HPV vaccine before age 15 only require two doses, instead of three doses for teens who start their vaccination series after age 15.

“Currently, the recommendation is that you start the HPV vaccine at your child’s 11-12-year-old visit. I was one of those pediatricians who used to say, ‘Put it off until it’s closer to their window when they need it,’ but it’s kind of nice to know you can save your kid a poke if you start before they turn 15,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

Since the introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2006, the Centers for Disease Control reports that cervical cancer cases in the United States have dropped by nearly two-thirds.

Annual exams are important
Teenagers should continue to see their pediatrician, or other health care provider, on a regular basis. All teens (or their parents) should keep an updated record of their immunizations. Many will need more vaccinations as teenagers, particularly if they have fallen behind on any of their immunizations. Annual exams help prevent costly and dangerous health problems before they start.

For more information on specific vaccines recommended for teens, click here.