Vaccination is the best way to protect your adolescent against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, chickenpox and meningitis. Thanks to vaccines, doctors see fewer cases of these diseases—but they still exist
- Pertussis (whooping cough) is an increasing health problem among teens and young adults due to declining immunity after the initial childhood vaccination. All 11- and 12-year-olds should receive the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine. Students who received the diptheria-tetanus (dT) booster in the past should get the next Tdap five years after the dT shot. Your teen should get the Tdap vaccine at their 16- to 18-year-old checkup, usually just before they head off to college. After this Tdap vaccine, another booster isn’t recommended.
- Meningococcal meningitis, typically an infection of the brain and spinal cord lining, can be life-threatening. Teens and young adults are at high risk because the bacteria that causes meningococcal disease is spread through mouth and throat secretions, such as spit. If caught quickly meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics, but the best defense is vaccination.
In 2005, a vaccine for meningitis was approved for people age 11 to 55; two shots are given five years apart, ideally before the person reaches college age. In 2015, a new vaccine for meningitis B was approved. This vaccine isn’t required, but it targets the type of meningitis that caused several recent fatal meningitis outbreaks at college campuses.
- Hepatitis B is a serious infection that can lead to liver disease. Be sure your 11- to 19-year-old teen gets a hepatitis B vaccine if they haven’t already.
- Every child needs two MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations. The first is usually given to infants at about 15 months of age. The second is usually given at age 4 or 5, before the child starts kindergarten. If your adolescent hasn’t had the second vaccination, they should get it now.
- Your teen should get the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine if they haven’t received the vaccine earlier and if they’ve never had chickenpox.
- Teens can and should receive all immunizations at the same time.
The Catch-Up Visit
Schedule a vaccine “catch up” visit when kids are 11 or 12 years old. During this visit, your child should receive:
- The Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
- The varicella (chickenpox) vaccine if not previously infected or vaccinated.
- The second dose of MMR, if it hasn’t already been given.
- The first dose of the hepatitis B series if it hasn’t already been given. The second dose is given one to two months after the first dose, and the third dose is given four to six months after the first dose.
Vaccines to prevent the flu and pneumonia-type infections are recommended for children with health problems such as kidney disease, sickle cell anemia, diseases of the lung and heart, and other chronic conditions. Ask your teen’s doctor for more information.
Teens should receive the hepatitis A vaccine if they travel to, work in or live in a country or community that has high rates of hepatitis A.
Reviewed by: Elizabeth W. Lee, M.D.
Last reviewed: August 2019