Flu or allergy shot. This image is available exclusively on Istock.I took a bit of a break from blogging to expand my family over the holiday season. Returning from maternity leave this week, one of the first headlines I noticed in my email inbox was regarding the measles outbreak that is currently in progress at a major theme park in California. As a pediatrician and now mother of two, I take my children to venues geared toward fun on a regular basis. There are playdates, birthday parties, museums, and many trips to the airport to fly to see family. My older daughter is more comfortable at the airport than at preschool! Considering whether or not they could be infected with a life threatening illness is not typically at the top of my worry list, and I would argue that no parent should have to worry about disease when taking their children to have a fun time.

Fortunately, medical science has advanced enough that we have an amazing opportunity to protect our children from some of the diseases that can lead to hospitalization, longterm disability, and even death. Vaccinations have saved thousands of lives. Of course all things have pros and cons. Vaccinations do carry some risks, and every parent has to weigh those pros and cons for themself and their family. As for me and my family, we’ve chosen to fully vaccinate our children and ourselves as parents. Thinking as a mom, the risk of hospitalization or death doesn’t compare to the very rare side effects that may accompany some vaccines. I also want to help ensure that the children my daughters play with, our family friends, and their classmates are not put at risk of disease. Afterall, vaccines protect the individual, but their greatest achievement is herd immunity. That is, even those not vaccinated (or who are unable to be vaccinated) are protected from disease because the people around them can’t spread the illness.

Most people equate vaccinations with small children. Afterall, babies and toddlers see their primary care provider more frequently than teens and adults, but there are vaccinations recommended in adolescence as well. This is not the first time a measles outbreak has received national attention. The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended at age 12-15 months, then again between ages 4-6 years. Some children receive the MMRV (including varicella aka chicken pox) between ages 1-12 years. Our colleague, Seattlemamadoc previously blogged about measles. As we read more about the current measles outbreak, and recall outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough, I wanted to re-cap the vaccines that are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for teens. This is an overview of vaccines recommended during adolescence but does not include the immunizations that would be needed if a teen was partially or had never been vaccinated and needed to ‘catch up.’

1. Meningococcal conjugate – meningococcal disease is a potentially fatal bacterial infection. It can be associated with close living quarters, such as dorms or military barracks. The vaccine is recommended for tweens ages 11-12. A booster is recommended at age 16. Even if your child receives the vaccine at ages 13-15, a booster is still recommended between ages 16-18.

2. Tdap – this combination vaccine for tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended at age 11 or 12. If your child never received the DTaP series as a young child, it’s recommended at age 7. All pregnant women are also encouraged to get the Tdap vaccine as well.

3. HPV- this series of 3 separate shots is recommended for boys and girls to start at ages 11 or 12. This vaccine is for cancer prevention and it is very important to receive the vaccine before exposure to the human papilloma virus. For more on HPV see our previous post here.

4. Influenza- the influenza vaccine is recommeded each year for everyone age 6 months or older with a healthy immune system. The immunity does not last and the yearly vaccine is tailored specifically for teh strains of the flu that are anticipated during the year. This is why it’s important to get it each year. Babies under 9 months may need 2 doses. There is are 2 different ways to receive this vaccine: either intramuscular or via an inhaled nasal mist. Talk with your child’s health care provider to see which they are eligible to receive.

As you consider immunizing your family, here are some other resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics Frequently Asked Questions on Vaccines

CDC: Why Immunize?