Is Your Teen Protected?

teens sitting on stairs

Written By Virginia Beard

Vaccinations aren’t just for babies. Read on for a list of immunizations your son or daughter will need before they enter young adulthood 

Before your child’s second birthday, he or she will receive a whirlwind of vaccinations. From the Hepatitis B vaccine given upon birth to the all-important MMR, or measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, it’s a marathon series that helps to immunize, or protect, your child and the community against the most common preventable diseases that exist.

If you’ve successfully ushered your baby through this crucial immunization period, kudos to you! But also know that your job isn’t over. “Fewer vaccines are needed as children get older, but they are just as important,” says Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated family medicine doctor Amy Forren. “Over the years, the efficacy of some childhood vaccinations starts to wane and extended protection is needed. Also, the risk of exposure to new viruses increases as your child enters stages of life like high school, college and beyond.”

There are three main immunization periods to keep in mind after age 2. When your child is between the ages of 4 and 6, they’ll need booster shots—which reinforce a vaccination already received—for their dTap (the booster is called Tdap), MMR, poliovirus and varicella vaccines. The next key age range is between 11 and 12, when another Tdap shot is needed, as well as two new immunizations: meningococcal and HPV. Finally, between ages 16 and 18, your child should receive the second dose of the meningococcal vaccine and possibly the meningococcal B shot—the latter of which Dr. Forren says may be recommended for teens who will be in high-risk environments, such as living in a college dorm or joining the military.

These years also offer a window to play catch-up. “If a vaccine was missed or declined when your child was a baby, it’s not too late to protect them,” she stresses. Just like we pore over healthy meal ideas and stash away money for college, “keeping your child on track with their vaccinations is a way to set them up for health and success later in life,” says Dr. Forren.

Anti-Vax Stats
Vaccines save millions of lives every year. Even so, throughout the last two decades, some parents have opted their children out of immunizations, due in part to an erroneous, debunked assertion that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism. Today, rates of certain diseases that had been declared eliminated from the U.S.—or close to it—have risen.

Is Your Child on Track?

An at-a-glance look at preteen and teen vaccine schedules

11-12 years old

• Tdap (This is a second booster for the dTap vaccine given in infancy. If dTap was not received, talk to your child’s pediatrician to create a catch-up plan.)
• HPV vaccine (can be given as early as age 9)
• Meningococcal vaccine
• Annual flu shot

16-18 years old

• HPV in a 3-part series if it was not administered at an earlier age
• Meningococcal booster
• The option of the Meningococcal B vaccine, if the child may be exposed to a high-risk environment
• Annual flu shot

Tdap is a combination vaccine that guards against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or whooping cough—each of which is a potentially life-threatening bacterial disease. The HPV vaccine protects against human papillomavirus— a sexually transmitted viral infection that’s associated with cervical cancer, mouth and throat cancers, penile cancer and genital warts. Meningococcal and Meningococcal B vaccines prevent bacterial infections of the brain and spinal cord that can result in permanent and severe complications such as brain damage, blindness, hearing loss, paralysis and death.

NEW RESEARCH: Sweet & Sour

A new study reveals potential drawbacks of consuming artificial sweeteners during pregnancy

Sweeter than sugar without all the calories—opting for sodas and food filled with artificial or “natural” sweeteners instead of sugar may feel like a healthy choice. But if you’re pregnant, you might want to reconsider, say authors of a new study conducted on rats. Researchers at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, analyzed the effects of artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy on rats’ offspring and found intake of low- or zero-calorie sweeteners, including stevia, to be linked with increased body fat and a disrupted gut microbiome among the baby rats. Study authors note that artificial sweeteners are currently considered safe for prenatal consumption in moderation, but offer this research as cautionary food for thought for pregnant moms. An unrelated 2016 study from the University of Manitoba in Canada found that women who consumed artificially sweetened drinks daily during pregnancy typically gave birth to heavier babies than women who did not. That study also found that babies born to moms who heavily consumed zero- or low-calorie sodas during gestation were twice as likely to be overweight by their first birthday than the children of moms who did not.