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 six 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 10 to 12. It’s safe, with mild side effects, if any.
Meningococcal conjugate vaccine. This shot protects against four strains of bacteria that can cause meningococcal disease, which is rare but extremely serious.
Meningococcal B vaccine (MenB). This shot protects against a fifth strain of meningococcal disease. It, too, is rare but the vaccines are sometimes given to children who are considered at risk for the disease
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.
Although most people recover easily from the flu, others develop serious complications like pneumonia.
Children with long-term health issues such as diabetes and asthma should especially get vaccinated yearly, as they are more vulnerable.
If your child can’t get the nasal spray version, ask your doctor if they can get the shot instead.
COVID-19 Vaccine. Your child can get this shot once they turn 12.
They can receive it at the same time that they get other routine vaccines, and in the same doctor visit. There’s no need to wait between them.
Your child will be fully vaccinated 2 weeks after they’ve gotten a single-dose shot or the second dose of a two-dose series. When they’re fully vaccinated, they can go back to activities they did before the pandemic without a mask or social distancing, unless rules or laws require it. Check to find out what regulations are in place at your child’s school and other activities.
It’s Not Too Late
Did your child miss some vaccine doses when they were 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.
MMR vaccine. Teens who didn't get two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine as children should get the shots as soon as possible.
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 them 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, they may need to get vaccinated for protection. Likewise, if they smoke or take medicines that affect their immune system, they 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.