As they grow from babies to big kids, children routinely get well-child checkups to make sure they're healthy and developing as they should. But as tots start moving toward their teens, visits to the doctor tend to become fewer and farther between. In fact, research shows that preteens generally see their doc only when they're sick, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That's why the federal agency is urging parents to schedule a checkup for 11- to 12-year-olds, complete with three now-highly-recommended vaccines that can protect kids from some serious, sometimes deadly diseases.
Here's a quick look at these immunizations and why it's so important that kids get them:
- MCV4: Provides protection from meningococcal disease — a serious bacterial infection that can lead to bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Although meningococcal infections are rare, bacterial meningitis is highly contagious and causes long-term problems for 15% of teens who get it and kills about 10% of adolescents who are infected, says the CDC.
- HPV: Protects girls from four types of human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the world. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer and genital warts, affecting more than half of sexually active people at some point in their lives — about 6.2 million people each year. Given as three injections over a 6-month period, the first dose should come between 11 and 12, then again in girls 13–18. (Although the HPV vaccine isn't currently recommended for boys, immunization experts are considering it.)
- Tdap: Ideally given between 11 and 12, long after the initial series of early childhood immunizations, this booster shot provides added protection against:
- Tetanus (lockjaw) — a nerve disease caused by toxin-producing bacteria that can contaminate a wound
- Diphtheria — a serious infection of the throat that can block the airway and cause severe breathing difficulty
- Pertussis (whooping cough) — one of the most common respiratory infections among American teens, according to the CDC. Causing severe coughing spells that can last for weeks or months, the highly contagious disease is on the rise, with more than 25,000 cases in 2005.
After the Tdap booster, additional Td (tetanus and diphtheria) boosters should be given every 10 years. Some childhood vaccines, like pertussis and tetanus, lose their effectiveness over time. That means preteens, teens, and even adults who were immunized during their childhood may still catch — and then pass on — certain infections. That's why it's crucial that kids of every age get all of the vaccines and booster shots they need.
What This Means to You
If you have a preteen, make sure to schedule an 11- to 12-year-old checkup, which presents an ideal opportunity to talk to the doctor — and get advice — about your child's development, eating and exercising habits, and safety.
Along with giving your child the MCV4, HPV, and Tdap vaccines, the doctor can also make sure your child is caught up on other essential immunizations for diseases like chickenpox (the varicella vaccine); hepatitis B (HBV); and measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles) (through the combination MMR vaccine), says the CDC.
If you have any questions or concerns about immunizations, talk to your doctor. You can also check out the CDC's new website for parents of preteens and teens for detailed information about each of the recommended vaccines and the serious diseases they can help protect your kids from throughout their adolescence.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2007