Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Teens Need Their Vaccines

Yasaman Ahmadieh, DO
Pediatric Resident at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School
Member, Texas Medical Association

Editor’s Note:  Me and My Doctor is highlighting the importance of vaccinations and overall teen health in a two-part blog series. This comes after leading medical and public health organizations issued a joint call to action urging health care professionals to establish an adolescent health care visit at 16 years of age to ensure their patients receive recommended adolescent vaccines.

Annual doctor visits are essential – not only during children’s infancy and toddler years but also during their teen years. Vaccination is an important part of these visits. Children receive essential vaccines (against chickenpox, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, and whooping cough) prior to age seven, but they also need shots as they age. Parents and teenagers are often surprised when their pediatricians tell them about the required and recommended vaccines at age 16. At this age, teenagers are required to receive a second dose of the meningococcal serogroup A, C, W, and Y vaccine. Furthermore, the meningococcal serogroup B, and HPV vaccines are recommended if  the teenager has not yet received them. As a pediatrician, I have been asked the following questions about these conditions, and vaccinations to prevent them:

What is the meningococcal serogroup B?

Meningococcus bacteria have 13 known strains (serotypes). Meningococcus serotype B is one of the strains. Meningococcal bacteria cause meningitis, as well as infection of the lining of the brain and spine. Children in the first year of life and adolescents are at a higher risk of meningococcal infection. Meningococcal diseases are uncommon. However, 10% to 15% of infected children die. The children who survive may have complications such as hearing loss, brain damage, seizures, and intellectual disabilities. 

Teenagers are recommended to get several vaccines at age 16,
including those for meningococcal disease and HPV.
What is the meningococcal B vaccine?

It is a combination vaccine. It contains part of the bacteria’s outer membrane attached to a protein in order to induce the immune response. It is a two-dose series vaccine. Doctors and scientists recommend young people receive this vaccine at 16 to 18 years of age. However, young adults up to 45 years old can receive this vaccine.

What is the difference between the meningococcal B vaccine, and the meningococcal A, C, W, and Y vaccines? 

Meningococcus serotypes A, C, W, and Y are the most common of the 13 meningococcus strains. Giving 11- and 16-year-olds the necessary meningococcal vaccines protects them against serotypes A, C, W, and Y. Serotype B requires a different vaccine that specifically guards against that strain.


Why does my child need the meningococcal serogroup B vaccine?
Meningococcal diseases are fatal and have other serious complications. Although meningococcal serotype B is rare, there have been reported outbreaks on college campuses. Ninety-six meningitis cases caused by serotype B were reported in 2014 to 2016. Sixty-five of those cases involved college students. If adolescents receive the vaccine prior to attending college, they will be protected from meningococcal infection and complications. (That is why Texas law requires incoming college students under age 22 to show proof of an initial meningococcal vaccination or a booster dose during the five-year period prior to enrolling.)

What is human papillomavirus?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that causes several types of cancer, and other health problems. Nearly 80 million people are currently infected in the United States. About 14 million adults and teens are infected every year. In the United States, 33,700 cases of HPV infection result in cancer in men and women every year. Being younger than 25 years old and having multiple partners increase the risk of infection. It can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. HPV has many strains that are categorized as high or low risk based on the associated risk of cancer. High-risk strains are associated with head and neck, anal, penile, and cervical cancer. Low-risk strains cause genital warts. Since it is a virus, there is no treatment. However, the HPV vaccine prevents cancer-causing infections and precancers. HPV is not human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or herpes
simplex virus (HSV).

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006. The so-called 9-valent HPV vaccine targets nine of the most common low- and high-risk strains. It is recommended that girls and boys receive this vaccine at 11 or 12 years old. While it is most effective at those younger ages, males can still get the HPV shots through age 21, and females can receive them as old as age 45. Children who receive the HPV vaccine at 9 to 14 years old receive two doses. However, adolescents 15 years old or older should receive three doses.

Why does my child need the HPV vaccine if he or she is not sexually active?

Given the high rate of HPV infections in the United States, it is highly likely that your child will be infected after becoming sexually active in adulthood. The HPV vaccine can prevent numerous cancers. In fact, based on clinical trials and research, the HPV vaccine is effective in decreasing the development of anogenital cancer (cancer relating to or involving the genital organs and anus). It is the only vaccine that has been developed to prevent cancer.


Does this vaccine encourage teenagers’ sexual activity? 

No. Admittedly, some parents are concerned about encouraging high-risk sexual behavior since this vaccine protects adolescents from HPV, which is the most common of all sexually transmitted diseases. However, research has shown there is no significant change in adolescents’ sexual behavior after receiving the HPV vaccine. It is important to note that condoms may prevent infection of the cervix or anus. However, the virus might infect external areas. Bottom line, the HPV vaccine prevents life-threatening cancer; THAT is what parents need to know.

What are the side effects of these vaccines?

The most common side effects are temporary soreness, redness, or swelling. Some rare side effects include tiredness, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, fever, chills, or nausea.

Stay tuned for the second installment, “Your 16-Year-Old Checkup: Why It’s Important and What to Expect” on Me and My Doctor.

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