Age Groups and Vaccines: Adolescents

Preparing for vaccines

By adolescence, your child has received several vaccines; but it probably still doesn’t feel entirely comfortable watching him get more. Most likely your child has not had a negative consequence before, and that is likely to be the case again. If your adolescent has had a negative experience previously, be sure to discuss that event with his doctor before it is time for the next vaccine to be given.

Because some adolescents have a tendency to faint, it is recommended that they remain seated or lie down during vaccine administration and remain at the office for about 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.

Remember that your adolescent will take the lead from you. If you are feeling comfortable that this is an important and necessary thing to do, your child will also be more comfortable.

To prepare yourself

  • Bring your child’s immunization record to the visit with you.
  • Be sure to ask questions before the office staff comes in with the vaccine. Usually, vaccines are given after a physical exam and discussion with the parents.
  • Read the Vaccine Information Sheets and any other materials that the office staff provides to you.

To prepare your adolescent

  • Check with your child’s doctor about giving a non-aspirin pain reliever.
  • Engage your child in a conversation.
  • You may want to have the office staff rub an alcohol pad on the opposite hand or arm immediately before giving the shot. Right when the shot is ready to be given, have your child blow on the alcohol-swabbed spot. The action of blowing on the alcohol will produce a feeling of cold that will lessen the sensation of pain. It will also help your child to think about something else and feel more like she is in control. Some healthcare professionals will help with this by asking the patient for her help and describing what to do.
  • Encourage your child to relax her muscles and take a few short deep breaths then a few longer breaths while getting the shots. Suggest that it may be better to look away while the shots are given.

Remember, taking your children to get vaccines is an act of love. You are protecting them from something much worse than the pain of the vaccine.

After the vaccines

When you get home, realize that your child may be more tired than usual. He may be sore where the shot was given. Try to be patient and understanding and provide comfort to your child. You can also give him a pain reliever as directed by the doctor. If the area where the shot was given is red, tender or swollen, you can use a cool wet cloth on the area. If your child has a fever, have him take a cool shower or bath. Give your child plenty of fluids and be aware that he may be less interested in food over the next 24 hours.

Watch for signs of a reaction from the vaccine including a rash, prolonged fever, or unusual behaviors. If you have any reason for concern, call your child’s doctor who can tell you what to expect and what to do.

While most side effects are minor, if your child has a severe reaction, you or the doctor can file a report to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System or VAERS.

A vaccine issue for this age group: Parents are not always informed about recommended vaccines

In 2015, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that 16- to 18-year-olds receive a vaccine that protects against one type of meningococcus, known as meningococcus B. Because this vaccine may not be required in your state, your physician may not recommend that your adolescent receive it. But you should still consider having your child get it because it will protect them against another type of meningococcus.

What is the difference between a recommendation and a requirement?

When the CDC and its experts decide that a vaccine is safe and useful, they recommend it for use. A requirement is usually enforced by school entry laws, unless a parent claims an exemption.

What does the difference between recommended and required mean to me and my child?

If a vaccine has been recommended for use, but is not required by your state, your child may not be offered the vaccine. However, your child would still benefit from receiving the vaccine. When the CDC and state public health departments make their recommendations and requirements, they need to consider the risk of the disease versus the benefits of the vaccine for the entire population. These considerations also include cost — what may not be a cost-effective prevention for society may be worthwhile for you as an individual parent.

For example, a 12-year-old girl from suburban Philadelphia died on Dec. 11, 2002, from meningococcal infection. At the time, a vaccine was available to prevent this infection; however, her parents were not aware of its availability because it was not recommended for her age group or required by her state. Reasonably, her parents wondered why they did not know about this vaccine. From their perspective, the $80 for the vaccine to save her life would, of course, have been worth it. That vaccine was not recommended for her age group for several reasons, one of which was cost. It would cost society approximately $4 million to prevent one case of meningococcal disease and $48 million to prevent one death if all adolescents were recommended to receive that vaccine.

Other resources

Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD on February 28, 2017

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.