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Teens and Their Shots

By: Lourdes Nena A. Cabison-Carlos, MDTeens and Their Shots

Vaccines are usually associated with babies and young children. More often than not, older kids and teenagers don’t visit clinics for check-ups unless they are really sick. While it is true that vaccines given to young children are effective in preventing various infectious diseases, our ‘big’ kids (as well as a select group of adults) need vaccinations as well. Teenagers are exposed to a wider, bigger world and explore new things, so it is important to protect them from every possible infection.

What are the vaccines given to teenagers?

There are a number of vaccines given to teenagers, some of which are recently developed. The guidelines for adolescent immunization as released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are usually a collaboration of various societies such as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Public Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Disease, and the American Academy of Family Practice. The Philippines usually patterns immunization guidelines based on these advisory bodies.

What your teenager needs depends on whether he or she completed the primary immunization schedule (if not, catch-up immunization will be given) or if he or she has a pre-existing illness (some vaccines might be given while some might be omitted). In general, a teenager will usually be given the following vaccines:

  • Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) or Tetanus-diphtheria (Td) Booster
  • Meningococcal Vaccine
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccine
  • Influenza Vaccine
  • Hepatitis B Vaccine
  • Hepatitis A Vaccine
  • Chickenpox/Varicella Vaccine
  • Mumps, Measles, Rubella (MMR Vaccine)
  • Pneumococcal Vaccine

What do these vaccines protect my child from?

Teenagers usually are active individuals who appear impervious to disease. However, because of certain practices and habits even the strictest parent cannot police, it is important to arm them against preventable diseases. Below are the diseases adolescent vaccination aims to prevent.

Hepatitis B – This is a common cause of viral hepatitis affecting the liver and is transmitted from mother to baby or through contact with infected blood or body fluid such as semen. An infection is usually not fatal but it can lead to chronic infection, which can then progress to liver cirrhosis and cancer.  According to Cleveland Clinic, adolescents who are at a particularly high risk for acquiring Hepa B infection are the following:

  • Sexually active teens (hetero or homosexuals) with more than one partner during the previous 6 months or those who have had a sexually transmitted disease
  • Teens who use injectable drugs
  • Household contacts and sexual partners of people with chronic hepatitis B infection
  • Members of household with adoptees who are chronic carriers of hepatitis B
  • Those at occupational risk of exposure to blood or blood-contaminated body fluid
  • Teens who are undergoing hemodialysis
  • Inmates of juvenile detention and other correctional facilities
  • Adolescents with bleeding disorders who receive clotting factor concentrates
  • Those who are long-term international travelers to areas where hepatitis B infection is endemic

Vaccination for hepatitis B is usually completed before a child turns one, so it is important that your child receives all the recommended shots for Hepa B. If a teenager missed or was not given any hepatitis B vaccine at all, the vaccine is given as part of the ‘catch-up’ immunization.

Hepatitis A – This is another type of viral hepatitis that is transmitted through the fecal-oral route, usually by consuming contaminated food or water. Those who frequent unsanitary food parks and teenagers who periodically travel to areas where hepatitis A is endemic should be immunized. This is a 2-dose vaccine that can be given to children > 12 months of age. Talk with your doctor whether your teen should receive the pediatric formulation (18 years and below) or the adult dose of the vaccine.

MMR – This is a combination vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles) given at 1 year of age, with a second dose given at 4-6 years. An infection of rubella is usually benign but can be serious during pregnancy because it can affect the fetus and cause congenital rubella syndrome. Hence, adolescents and women of child-bearing age should be given (if not yet administered) two doses of the MMR vaccine given at least one month apart. Because this is a live vaccine, this should not be given to a pregnant individual.

Varicella/Chickenpox – This vaccine is usually given at 1 year of age, with a second dose at 4-6 years. Teenagers who were not vaccinated as young children should receive the vaccine as soon as possible because the risk of serious illness and complications (as well as ugly scarring) is higher in teenagers and adults. Like MMR, this is a live vaccine which should not be given to pregnant individuals.

Influenza (Flu) – This is perhaps one of the more popular vaccines given to teens. This is a routine annual vaccine recommended for all individuals aged 6 months and older. Individuals with asthma, diabetes mellitus, and those who have neurodevelopmental disorders among others are especially advised to adhere to the annual vaccine schedule.

Meningococcal – This vaccine is given to prevent meningitis especially in high-risk populations (HIV, complement deficiency, and asplenia). Teens are less likely to be infected with the bacteria compared to infants, but the disease occurrence increases at 11 years and peaks at 19 (around the time the individual enters college). Talk with your doctor about the best type of meningococcal vaccine for your child.

Tdap – This is a combination of three vaccines for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. Diphtheria affects the tonsils and throat but can sometimes progress to affect the heart or cause paralysis. Pertussis is an infection of the respiratory tract and causes the disease known as whooping cough.  Tetanus is caused by a neurotoxin when bacterial spores come in contact with an open wound. It causes lockjaw, muscle stiffness, and spasms. Tdap given during adolescence has a different dose and form compared to the DTap given to younger kids. Because the vaccine against pertussis (even acquiring the infection naturally) does not offer lifelong protection, your teen should receive Tdap vaccine as advised by your doctor.

Pneumococcal – The bacteria can cause pneumonia, otitis media, meningitis or blood infection. This is vaccine is given to teens who are smokers and those with certain conditions like diabetes, asthma or emphysema. There are two available types of pneumococcal vaccines and your doctor should be able to advise you on the most appropriate one for your teenager.

HPV – Infection with HPV can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Administration of this vaccine is recommended in adolescent girls (and boys) before the initiation of sexual activity, usually at the age of 12 years.

How to prepare for a visit with your child’s pediatrician

As with any medical visit, you are expected to provide a complete medical and vaccination history of your teen. Your child’s previous vaccination record and ‘baby book’ can facilitate a faster and more accurate dialogue with your pediatrician. Also, you are advised to disclose any conditions such as allergy, surgeries (especially of the spleen), diabetes, immunodeficiency, and pregnancy. Your teen is also encouraged to ask questions so he or she can better understand what is needed and why.

Teenage years can be a rough time. As parents, we can make it easier for them if we keep them healthy and in top shape. So if your child has missed his shots, pay your doctor a visit. Stay healthy!

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