If you have older kids who got all their vaccines when they were little, you might think they're protected against those diseases for life. But as they grow up, the effects of some childhood immunizations wane, so teens need boosters to stay safe.
Children get other vaccines the first time between the ages of 11 and 16 because that’s when they work best. And if your kids haven’t yet gotten all of the recommended childhood vaccines, now is a great time to catch up.
What They Need
Every teen or preteen should get these four vaccinations, according to the CDC:
Tdap booster. Babies and little kids get several doses of the DTaP vaccine to protect them against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) during childhood. The effects of this shot wear off over time. To keep your kid protected, get them a Tdap booster shot when they're 11 or 12. It’s safe, with mild side effects, if any.
Meningococcal vaccine. This shot protects against four strains of bacteria that can cause meningococcal disease, which is rare but extremely serious.
There are two particularly dangerous forms: meningitis, which infects the fluid and lining around the brain and can cause brain damage; and septicemia, a deadly blood infection.
These infections can spread through kissing and coughing, and teens are more likely to get them. The best way to protect your child from this disease is to get them vaccinated by the time they're 11 or 12. Older teens need a second shot when they're 16.
HPV vaccine. This targets HPV (human papillomavirus), which 1 in 4 Americans have had at some point. Some strains of HPV make certain types of cancer more likely, including cervical cancer in women, penile cancer in men, as well as anal cancer, mouth/throat cancer, and genital warts in both men and women.
Get your kid vaccinated at age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active. They get three doses spread over 6 months.
Flu vaccine. You and your children (except for babies younger than 6 months) should get it either as a shot or as a nasal spray every fall, ideally by October.
If your child can’t get the nasal spray version, ask your doctor if he can get the shot instead.
It’s Not Too Late
Did your child miss some vaccine doses when he was younger? If so, talk to your doctor about how to get these taken care of now:
Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine. Kids who've never caught chickenpox have a chance to get protected from this uncomfortable, contagious disease. Just two doses will protect you and others around you.
Hepatitis B vaccine. If your child didn't get the series of three or four hepatitis B shots that is typically started during infancy, he can get them now.
Polio vaccine. Young kids usually get four doses of this vaccine. If yours missed any (or all), make an appointment to get them back on track.
Ask your doctor if your child needs any other vaccines, and let her know about any health conditions, travel plans, or other health concerns.
For instance, if your teen hasn’t already gotten vaccinated against hepatitis A and plans to travel to a country where that disease is common, he may need to get vaccinated for protection. Likewise, if he smokes or takes medicines that affect his immune system, he may need the pneumococcal vaccine.
Your doctor will have the full list of all the vaccines that are available, who needs which ones, and what the schedule is to get them.