Teens & Vaccinations

Is Your Teen Protected?

Did you know that there are several new vaccines that weren’t available when your teenager was an infant or toddler? Today’s teens spend a lot of time in large group situations such as sports, parties and dormitories, and many teens take jobs that put them in contact with the public on a daily basis. Thus, their risk of encountering infectious diseases increases. Now might be the best time for your teen to get “caught up” on his or her protection against these serious viral and bacterial illnesses:

Hepatitis B

In recent years, this vaccine has been given to infants, but your teen has probably not been vaccinated, so you should ask your family doctor or pediatrician about getting this 3-shot series. Hepatitis B is still widespread and is acquired through contact with body fluids and blood. According to Dr. David Greenberg, head of the Center for Vaccine Research at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, “Many teens could be vulnerable: for example, high schoolers in rough or contact sports; or college students living in the close quarters of a dormitory.” Hepatitis B is particularly devastating because it is not always a one-time illness. Some people develop a chronic infection that can lead to severe liver disease and cancer later in life.


Also known as the chickenpox vaccine, this vaccine was only recently licensed—in 1995—so you should ask your pediatrician about this one. “If your teenager hasn't had chickenpox yet, you don’t want them to get it as an adult,” said Dr. Greenberg. “The reason is that although chickenpox is usually mild in toddlers and young children, it is more severe in some adults and can involve bacterial skin infections and pneumonia.”


The tetanus vaccine protects against the bacterium that causes lockjaw. It is most commonly contracted through a cut or puncture wound, and even wounds that aren’t serious enough to require stitches can become contaminated. Tetanus protection fades over time, so shots should be renewed every ten years. Odds are that if you can’t remember the last time your teen had a shot, he or she is probably ready for a booster.


To ensure protection, a child needs two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first is usually administered around 1 year of age. If your teen has not had the second shot, it is important to get it now. Outbreaks of measles often occur in high schools and colleges. If your teen contracts measles, he or she will not only feel miserable, complications may occur, and schoolwork will be disrupted. It is also important to protect against rubella because infected pregnant women can pass the virus to the unborn baby, causing severe birth defects.


This vaccine is important for teenagers who have chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease or sickle cell anemia. Since influenza spreads so rapidly among students, you may want to protect your teen so that he or she won’t miss school due to the illness. In addition, vaccinated teens will help protect vulnerable people around them. Although the average teenager may come through a flu illness with a little more than a week’s bed rest, an elderly grandparent or family member with a chronic illness could wind up in the hospital. Flu shots are given annually and are “customized” by the national Centers for Disease Control based on the strains of virus that they see spreading toward North America.

Hepatitis A

Unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease. Nevertheless, the virus can cause several weeks of fever, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea and jaundice (yellow skin and eyes). It is more common in many other countries than in the United States, so if your child plans to travel, he or she should receive the first of two doses before the trip. Hepatitis A is highly spreadable through contaminated fruits and vegetables; improperly cooked foods; or contact with human waste.

But I’m Too Old for Shots!

It’s no secret that few people enjoy getting shots no matter how good the benefit. If you have trouble coaxing your teen into getting the vaccinations that your doctor recommends, Children’s Dr. Greenberg suggests offering some “adult” privilege as an exchange, for example: a driver’s permit, an extended curfew, an unchaperoned trip to the mall, or a chance to choose their own hairstyle. Vaccines do not make a person invincible, but they can help to greatly improve your child’s chances of keeping his or her good health into adulthood.

To schedule vaccinations, call your child’s pediatrician or family physician, and speak to the nurse. Have your copies of your child’s immunization records on hand. Many pediatricians offer quick “vaccine-only” appointments, or you can get the vaccines done during your teen’s yearly check-up. You also can contact your local health department office for the hours and services of their vaccine clinics.