Why Does My Adolescent or Teen Need Vaccines?

Paul A. Offit, MD, talks about the three vaccines recommended for adolescents and teens: HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, meningococcal vaccine and Tdap vaccine. He also explains why these vaccines are recommended for this age group.


Why does my adolescent or teen need vaccines?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

One question we get asked is, “Why does my teenager need vaccines?” So, there are three vaccines given during adolescence, and by adolescence I mean given to that 11- to 13-year-old. One is called Tdap, which stands for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis; the pertussis is just a whooping cough vaccine. Now, this is a vaccine that children have gotten at 2 months of age, 4 months of age, 6 months of age, again at 12 to 15 months of age, again at 4 to 6 years of age, and now they’re getting another dose, a sixth dose, in adolescence. The reason is, is that immunity after that vaccine can fade even after those first few doses, so giving another dose in adolescence helps to boost immunity.

And frankly, children and now adults are asked to get every 10 years that Tdap vaccine to boost immunity. The second vaccine is the HPV vaccine, or human papillomavirus vaccine. This is a virus that can cause anal and genital and head and neck cancers; it accounts for about 30,000 cancers a year and 5,000 deaths a year. The virus is transmitted by sexual contact, so the important thing for that vaccine is to give it before children have sex, so to give it to them as young teenagers or 11 to 13 years of age is the best way to prevent that disease because you want to get that vaccine — get immunity to that vaccine — before children engage in sexual activity.

The third vaccine is the so-called meningococcal vaccine. Now, meningococcus is a bacteria that causes primarily meningitis; it also causes pneumonia; it also causes bacterial sepsis, which is an overwhelming bloodstream infection. Now, that bacteria actually occurs also in the first few years of life, but interestingly although it is more common infection in young children, it’s actually much more likely to cause death in adolescents. So, that’s probably the main reason that we give that vaccine to adolescents. So in summary then, three vaccines: The Tdap vaccine, the HPV vaccine, and the meningococcal vaccine are given to adolescents to protect them against these serious and occasionally fatal infections.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Mar 06, 2020