By Michaela Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Kindergartners aren’t the only ones who have to stay on target with their immunizations. In August, students entering seventh grade will be required to have a booster of the Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.
The recommendations for adolescent vaccines go beyond just this year’s rising seventh-graders. Parents of tweens and teens should consider other vaccines to protect their children and others.
Two other vaccines are recommended, but not required, for this age group, but are not required for school by the Mississippi State Department of Health – the HPV and meningococcal vaccines. Older tweens, teens and young adults who haven’t received a Tdap booster should also consider one.
The vaccines are widely available through pediatric and family practice clinics. County health departments have the vaccines in stock, too.
“It’s a great opportunity for parents to take advantage of,” said acting state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.
Parents may have to change their strategy for getting tweens and teens to roll up their sleeves for shots.
“At that age, you’re not going to trick them,” said Tupelo pediatrician Dr. Eric Street. “It’s better to be up front and honest.”
But be prepared for push back. At age 11, they may be focused just on how much a shot hurts, not about preventing disease in the future.
“They’re at an in-between stage where it can be hard to work through the logic,” Street said.
Initially, children get five doses of the Tdap between two months and six years. But over the years, public health officials have found that it wasn’t enough. Mississippi became the 43rd state to require a Tdap booster for older students.
“We know immunity wanes over time,” Byers said.
Whooping cough outbreaks are probably the biggest reason to give tweens and teens a booster. Outside of the flu, whooping cough is the most common among vaccine preventable diseases, Byers said.
In Mississippi this year there have been at least 20 cases. In Washington, the state health department has tracked nearly 1,500 cases reported this spring.
Whooping cough, which has a a very distinctive cough that leaves people gasping for breath is most serious for young children, Street said.
“When you look at deaths, it’s almost always infants,” Street said.
It usually isn’t life-threatening in teens, but it can be serious, Street said.
“You can cough to the point of breaking a rib,” Street said.
Side effects of the vaccine are usually mild, such as pain or redness at the site of the injection, or headache. Severe allergic reactions are very rare.
The meningococcal vaccine prevents a specific kind of bacteria meningitis which can be life threatening.
About 10 percent of people have this type of bacteria – Neisseria meningitidis – in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But sometimes this bacteria can invade the body causing certain illnesses, which are known as meningococcal disease.
“It’s not extremely common, but when you do have it, it’s bad,” Street said.
It’s not as contagious as the common cold or flu. It’s usually spread through direct contact with spit or saliva, like boyfriends and girlfriends or roommates.
“If you get one case, it’s very easy to get a cluster of cases,” Street said.
Many universities require the vaccine for students who will live in dorms, and students who have the vaccine as tweens will likely need a booster before they head to college, Street said.
As many as half of the people who get the meningococcal vaccine have mild side effects such as redness and pain where the shot was given. Serious allergic reactions are very rare.
The vaccine against the Human Papillomavirus has been recommended for girls for several years and is now recommended for boys.
“HPV infections can lead to genital warts and cervical cancer,” Byers said.
It’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, but it is not required for school in Mississippi.
For boys, genital warts are usually not a problem, but preventing the spread of the virus helps build the immunity that should eventually reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.
Because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease it can be an uncomfortable subject. Some parents are concerned that the HPV vaccine could send mixed messages about premarital sex, Street said. In his experience, that hasn’t been the case. It has been a parental level decision focused on preventing cervical cancer in the future.
“Cervical cancer is not going to ring a bell with (most younger teens),” Street said. “They aren’t wired to think long term.”
The vaccine has been in use in the United States for six years. Side effects include redness or swelling at the vaccine site and headache. Severe allergic reactions are very rare.