4 Vaccines for a Healthier Teen

I know, it's still summer. It's too early to be thinking about back to school! But it's the perfect time to take care of some of your children's health needs, before the pressure of school, sports, and extracurricular activities begin.

When our children are small, there are a lot of vaccinations on the schedule. Hepatitis, rotavirus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella — when our children are little, they're vulnerable to so many things. But once they are in school, they're done with all of that, right?

Not true! There are several vaccines preteens and teens need to stay healthy. Here's the list of four vaccines recommended for almost all adolescents:

OK, now you know which vaccines your preteens and teens need. What about cost? Well, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover many of the vaccinations adolescents need, without any extra cost to you. That includes Tdap, HPV, meningococcal, and flu vaccines. Check with your insurance provider to find out exactly what is included in your plan. If you don't have health insurance, your child might qualify for free vaccinations through the Vaccines for Children Program. You can also contact your state health department to learn more about where to get free or low-cost vaccines in your area.

Visit WebMD today to test your vaccine knowledge, learn more about the vaccines your child needs, and learn what to do when one vaccine isn't enough. Vaccines keep us safe and healthy, so make sure your child gets all the vaccines she needs before school starts this fall.

  • Tdap. All 11- and 12-year-olds should get this vaccine. It protects them from three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap). Tetanus is a toxic bacteria you can get when a cut or wound gets infected (like stepping on a rusty nail). Diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping cough) are spread through the air with coughs and sneezes. Whooping cough can be especially deadly for babies. If your child babysits or has a younger sibling, Tdap can keep her from passing the pertussis bacteria on to them.

    The Tdap vaccine acts as a booster for the DTaP kids get as babies, since its protection wears off over time. While your child is getting her Tdap, talk to your doctor about getting a Tdap or Td booster for yourself — adults need a booster shot every 10 years.

  • HPV. All adolescents (girls and boys) should receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine at age 11 or 12. This vaccine protects against the virus that causes cervical cancer and several other cancers including cancers of the penis, vulva, vagina, anus, and throat. The vaccine also protects against genital warts. Vaccinating boys and girls helps keep them healthy, and it makes them less likely to spread the virus to others. For full protection, your child needs three doses of the vaccine over six months. If you have teenagers, it's not too late to protect them. Talk to your health care provider about catch-up vaccination (PDF, 229 KB). Have more questions about the HPV vaccine? Watch this video.
  • Meningococcal meningitis. The meningococcal vaccine protects against diseases like meningitis, a rare but very serious illness where illness strikes quickly and unexpectedly and deaths can occur in as little as a few hours. Teens and young adults are at increased risk of infection, so children should receive the first dose of the vaccine at 11–12 years and a booster dose at age 16. If your teenager missed getting the meningococcal vaccine when she was younger, you can do a catch-up vaccination. Children with certain conditions should be on a modified dose schedule. Talk to your health care provider about which schedule is right for your child. Watch this video for more information about protecting your kids from meningitis.
  • Flu. Everyone needs a flu vaccine every year. The flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent flu, for kids and adults. It not only protects against influenza, it can also prevent complications like dehydration and pneumonia. If your child has asthma or diabetes, it can help keep her from getting worse if she does get the flu. Watch this video to learn more.
  • Additional shots. If your child has long-lasting health problems, is getting some kinds of medical treatment, or will travel abroad in the coming months, she might need different vaccines than others her age. Talk to your child's doctor about what other vaccines she may need.