Navigating Adolescent Vaccines

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Many parents trust their child’s pediatrician when it comes to immunizations, but it’s important to know exactly how these shots protect your child, and from what. 

Each year, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control approves a recommended vaccination schedule. It’s then adopted by various medical specialties, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. While officially they’re only recommended, the immunizations are also scientifically acknowledged as effective and most are required by pediatricians and both public and private schools. There’s nothing “new” to the list for 2018, but there are two vaccinations—Gardasil (HPV) and Meningitis B—that may seem new simply because they weren’t available to earlier generations. 

Gardasil, the vaccine administered at ages 11-13 to prevent HPV, earned an early bad rap as an STD vaccine only for girls. But Dr. Ben Spitalnick of Pediatric Associates of Savannah and president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, explains that’s simply not the case. “It’s a cancer vaccine that prevents HPV, which in males is a leading cause of throat cancer,” he says. “It’s absolutely recommended, and it’s absolutely safe.” 

Meningococcal has been on the list of necessary immunizations for years, but meningitis B was added about 6 years ago. This vaccination prevents severe meningitis outbreaks in colleges and, as such, is often required for college students. Yet, some people still hesitate. “There is concern spread over the Internet about the effectiveness of the vaccine, possible side effects, and if it’s worth getting when it may not be required,” Spitalnick explains. “But the science and research show that it’s effective, safe and worth getting.”

The one immunization that is not new, but sometimes considered by parents as unnecessary for adolescents, is the flu vaccination. Spitalnick is unwavering in his belief that children should be
immunized against the fl u every year—and he backs it with data. “Flu is the number one leading cause of vaccine preventable death in the United States,” he says. “While most fl u-related deaths
actually happen in the elderly, the kids are the primary vector that spread it to the community.” 

It’s still possible to contract the flu after being vaccinated, as Spitalnick points out. “Studies show that people who get the fl u shot have a significantly lower risk of being hospitalized from the flu,” he explains. “This past flu season, the data shows that 90 percent of children who die from the flu are non-immunized kids.” 

Bottom line: get the shot.