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Topic of the Month: Preteens and Teens Need Vaccines

Photo: Three teens

Do you have a preteen or teen? Make sure they have received the recommended preteen and teen vaccines so they will be protected from serious diseases.

Vaccines aren't just for babies. As kids get older, the protection provided by some of the vaccines given during childhood can begin to wear off. Older kids can also develop risks for certain infections as they enter the preteen and teen years.

The preteen and teen vaccines not only help protect them, but also their friends, community and family members. There are four vaccines recommended for preteens and teens. All kids should get a flu vaccine every year, and the three other vaccines should be given starting when kids are 11 to 12 years old. Teens may need to catch-up on vaccines they missed when they were a preteen. Teens may also need a booster of a vaccine that requires more than one dose to be fully protected.

Any visit to the doctor—an annual health checkup or a physical for sports, camp or college—can be a good time for preteens and teens to get the recommended vaccinations. Before the visit, review this parent-friendly version of the 2011 Recommended Immunizations for Children from 7 through 18 Years Old [PDF - 478KB].

Which Vaccines Do Preteens and Teens Need and at What Age?

The following vaccines are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) and CDC:

  • Tdap vaccine
    The Tdap vaccine protects against 3 diseases: tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also called "whooping cough"). The DTaP shots that infants and young children receive protect against these diseases, but protection begins to wear off as kids get older. The Tdap vaccine takes the place of what used to be called the "tetanus booster" and has the added benefit of continuing protection against whooping cough, which is very contagious. Whooping cough can make preteens and teens sick enough to miss several weeks of school and other activities. It can also be passed on to others, including babies, who can die from it. Preteens (11 or 12 years old) should get a single dose of Tdap. Teens (13 through 18) who have not yet gotten Tdap should get a single dose as soon as possible.
  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine
    The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) helps prevent meningococcal disease and it can prevent two of the three most common disease-causing strains. Meningococcal meningitis can become deadly in 48 hours or less. Even with treatment, people die in about 10% of cases. About 20% of survivors of meningococcal disease have a long-term disability such as deafness, brain damage, or an amputated arm or leg. Preteens should receive this vaccine at age 11 or 12 and then get a booster at age 16. Teens who received MCV4 for the first time when they are 13 through 15 years old will need a one-time booster dose when they are 16 through 18 years old. If a teen missed getting the vaccine altogether, they should ask their doctor about getting it now, especially if they are about to move into a college dorm or military barracks.
  • HPV vaccine
    The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines protect girls and young women against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancer.  One HPV vaccine also prevents anal cancer and genital warts in both females and males. Doctors recommend HPV vaccine for 11 and 12 year old girls to protect against the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Doctors and parents may also choose to vaccinate 11 and 12 year old boys to protect them from the types of HPV that cause anal cancer and genital warts.  HPV vaccines are given in three doses (as shots) over 6 months—it is very important to get all 3 shots to be fully protected.  Teens and young adults (under age 27) who have not yet received HPV vaccine or who have not finished the series of shots, should talk with their parents and/or the doctor about getting those shots now.
  • Flu vaccine
    The seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine protects against 3 influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming flu season. Most people sick with the flu will recover in a few days to less than 2 weeks; however flu is unpredictable. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are 3 examples of complications from flu. It is especially important for kids with asthma or diabetes to get vaccinated to help decrease their risk of serious complications from flu. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year. Preteens and teens should get a flu vaccine in the fall or as soon as it is available each year.

Be sure to check with the doctor to confirm that your teen has received all recommended childhood vaccines or if they need to "catch-up" on any of the childhood vaccines.

Preteens and teens might experience mild side effects, such as redness and soreness, where they get a shot (usually in the arm). Some preteens and teens might faint after getting a shot. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes after a vaccination can help prevent fainting. Most side effects are very minor, especially compared with the serious diseases that these vaccines prevent.

Need Help Paying for Vaccines?

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines, but you may want to check with your insurance provider before going to the doctor. If you don't have insurance, or if it does not cover vaccines, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program may be able to help.

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides vaccines at no cost to doctors who serve eligible children. Children younger than 19 years of age are eligible for VFC vaccines if they are Medicaid-eligible, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) or have no health insurance. "Underinsured" children who have health insurance that does not cover vaccination can receive VFC vaccines through Federally Qualified Health Centers or Rural Health Centers.


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