Why Does My Adolescent or Teen Need Vaccines?

Paul A. Offit, MD, talks about the three vaccines recommended for adolescents: HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, meningococcal vaccine, and the Tdap vaccine, and why it’s important to get these vaccines.


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 thing that parents wonder about is, “Why does my adolescent need vaccines at all?” “What’s particularly unique to them that makes them different from say, a younger child that they require vaccines?”

And there are really three vaccines that adolescents should get. One is the human papillomavirus, or HPV vaccine. The reason that they should get that when they’re 11, 12, 13 years of age is that that’s right before they’re more likely to have sexual contact, and that is the manner by which HPV is transmitted. HPV contains … that vaccine, contains several serotypes of the virus which can prevent, frankly, about 25,000 cases of cancer a year, and about 4,000 deaths a year — cancers of the head and neck, cancers of the anal and genital tract. So it’s in incredibly valuable vaccine. And obviously it’s better to get it in adolescence right before the child is about to likely engage in sexual contact.

Another vaccine that’s given in adolescence is the so called meningococcal vaccine, or conjugate meningococcal vaccine. That vaccine protects against a bacteria called meningococcus, which is a frightening and occasionally fatal infection. When children start adolescence do things like go to summer camp, or go to group meetings where they’re much more likely to be in sort of a small space, especially before they go … when they go to college. They’re more likely to share their bacteria and viruses, and meningococcus is one that can particularly be fatal for the adolescent. Actually, although, interestingly meningococcus as a disease is much more common in a young child — it’s actually much more fatal in the adolescent. So it’s important to get that vaccine during adolescence.

The third vaccine that adolescents get is the so called Tdap vaccine, which stands for tetanus, diphtheria, and the “ap” is acellular pertussis, or whooping cough. Pertussis is a common disease in the United States. Certainly when adolescents get together, it’s important that they be protected against that. Because again, there are in much closer contact. And again, it’s important to get that booster dose because pertussis immunity, or immunity to the vaccine, can fade, frankly, in about five years. So you need to make sure that you get the pertussis booster.

Thank you

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Apr 23, 2015