The Perspective

Immunizations aren't just for babies

The adolescent years can be just as tricky for parents as they navigate through puberty for a second time and deal with the all-too familiar health issues of sports injuries, proper nutrition, acne and good old-fashioned teenage angst. But one health concern some parents may overlook is that of outdated immunizations. As children get older, protection from vaccines they received as babies or toddlers begins to wear off and puts them at risk of vaccine-preventable illnesses.

“By making sure your adolescent’s immunizations are up to date, you’re taking steps to ensure a lifetime of health. Immunizations will protect pre-teens and teenagers well into their adulthood,” said Richard Cichy, community health nurse manager for the health district’s immunization program.

The big four

The US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians make recommendations for immunization schedules and catch-up schedules for children and adolescents. Currently, there are four vaccines recommended for adolescents and young adults: human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis, pertussis and influenza.

Of those recommended, the HPV vaccine is the newest and most controversial because it not only protects against cervical cancer, but also against a virus that is sexually transmitted. Even though parents may find it difficult to vaccinate their child at age 11 or 12 against HPV, it is imperative to give the vaccine before boys and girls become sexually active. Other parents have expressed concerns about the safety of the vaccine because it is relatively new. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 46 million doses have been distributed and vaccine safety studies continue to show that the vaccine is safe. The HPV vaccine series is part of the federal Vaccine for Children program which covers immunizations for children up to age 18 who have no insurance, are under-insured or meet other parameters.

The meningitis vaccine protects against a strain of bacterial meningitis, which can become deadly in 48 hours or less. About one in 10 people with meningococcal disease die, even with treatment. One in five survivors have a long-term disability such as deafness, brain damage or amputation. The vaccine is recommended for children at 11 or 12 and a booster at 16. In Nevada, college freshman under age 24 living in on-campus housing must show proof of meningitis immunization.

The Tdap vaccine is the tetanus-dipththeria-pertussis booster shot. In the past several years, there have been widespread outbreaks of pertussis. Immunity from the vaccines children received to prevent against these three illnesses tends to wane as they get older. In Nevada, seventh graders must receive a pertussis booster before they can attend school.

Flu shots are recommended for people over the age of six months. A seasonal flu shot protects against strains of the virus that are expected to circulate in the United States during the season. It is especially important for kids with asthma or diabetes to get their flu shot to lessen their risk of complications from the illness.

Check their status

Many parents and, of course, teens themselves, are not aware of the need to check their immunization status. Cichy cites some of the possible reasons why tween and teen immunizations might fall by the wayside: fewer doctor visits; vaccine costs; underestimating the risks of infection; difficulties getting vaccine records; failure to follow-up to get additional doses of certain vaccines; and misinformation about vaccine safety.

Cichy suggests parents use the opportunity during the next doctor office visit to discuss vaccines for their teens. To assist parents, the health district uses a statewide immunization registry to manage immunization records; offers online records requests and provides access to the most up-to-date vaccine information. “We are also going out into the community with shot clinics to get kids vaccinated,” Cichy added.

Last year, the Southern Nevada Health District administered more than 18,200 immunizations to children between the ages of 11 and 18—that’s 34 percent of the total number for 2012. For more information about immunizations, clinic locations and vaccine schedules, visit or call (702) 759-0850.

The Southern Nevada Health District gives immunizations at five public health centers throughout the Valley, and coordinates with community partners to offer immunizations throughout the year at various events and health fairs. For up-to-date clinic information, visit the Clinic Locations webpage.

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