Health Care

Your Teen Is Probably Missing Key Vaccines for a Really Foolish Reason

Teenagers are missing critical vaccines—but it’s not their fault.

By Claire Gillespie

Is your child up to date with their pre-school vaccines? Well done—but your work isn’t over just yet. Kids need vaccines well beyond their early years, and many teens aren’t getting them. (Make sure you’re aware of these common myths about vaccines.)

The onus is on parents to make sure their children get the recommended vaccines at the right time, but a new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan says many teenagers are missing critical vaccines.

Based on a national sample of 614 parents with at least one teen age 13 to 17, more than a third of parents of teens didn’t know when their child’s next vaccine was due. Additionally, half of parents didn’t realize it was their responsibility to make an appointment when the time came, incorrectly assuming their doctor would do it.

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National vaccination rates are well below public health targets for certain adolescent vaccines, particularly those that require more than one dose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one third of teens have received the second dose of meningitis vaccine by age 17. Similarly, less than half of boys age 13 to 17 have completed the HPV vaccine series, and less than half of adolescents receive an annual flu shot.

Despite the low vaccination numbers nationwide, more than 90 percent of parents polled thought their teen had received all vaccines recommended for their age.

“Our poll found a significant gap between national data on teen vaccination rates and what parents report,” says poll co-director Sarah Clark, MPH. “This indicates that many parents are unclear about the additional vaccines their teen may need.”

But why are parents so unsure about vaccines for teens? Clark suggests that changes in the recommended schedule for teen vaccines may be one factor, such as the recent recommendation to give the meningitis vaccine at age 16. Additionally, parents may assume they’ll receive reminders from their doctor’s office, just as they did when their child was young. “There is a clear need for providers to be more proactive for their teen patients,” notes Clark. Location may also be a factor, as the majority of states don’t have vaccine requirements for high schoolers. However, many states do have vaccination requirements for students starting elementary and middle school.

The CDC has up-to-date information about all the vaccines recommended for kids age 13 to 18. (By the way, parents need vaccines too!)

More: Health Care Living Well

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