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July 31, 2017

Three Keys to Protecting Your Teen

by Lisa Davis

As every parent knows, once your child gets through elementary school you can say goodbye to certain precautions. Baby-proofing? Been there, done that. Car seats? Unfortunately, they don’t come big enough to protect your pre-teen, let alone your teen driver. But there’s a crucial safety step you should still be taking for your older child or adolescent. “It’s just as important for older children to get their vaccines as it is for babies and toddlers,” says Kristofer Smith, MD, chief medical officer of CareConnect. “It’s easy for vaccines to fall off the radar screen once you get through those early years, but immunizations can prevent really devastating illnesses or even be lifesaving.”

Here are three vaccines every child needs during the run-up to adolescence -- and why.

HPV vaccine

Why it matters: This vaccine helps protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer. That makes it essential for girls -- and it’s no less important for boys, because HPV can trigger several other kinds of cancer, too, including cancer of the throat, which has increased dramatically in recent years. Adding insult to injury, HPV also causes genital warts.

When to give it: The best way to protect your child from HPV is to get him or her fully vaccinated before age 13. Your child will need a series of two or three doses over a six-month period, depending on which HPV vaccine the doctor uses.

Tdap booster

Why it matters: This is a variation on the DTaP shots your youngster got as a baby and young child, and protects against the same three serious diseases: tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, AKA whooping cough. You may think of whooping cough as a thing of the past, but it’s been making a frightening comeback.

When to give it: Because the protective power of the DTaP shots appears to gradually wear off, your child should get a Tdap booster at age 11 or 12.

Meningococcal vaccine

Why it matters: This tongue-twister of a vaccine guards your teenager against a bacteria that can cause meningitis or bloodstream infections. These illnesses are rare but very serious -- they can kill within hours. Transmission of this bacteria happens more frequently with college students and military recruits, who live in close quarters, which is one reason well-timed protection is so important.

When to give it: Your child should get one dose at age 11 or 12, and a second shot at age 16.