Don't Miss a Chance at Disease Protection

Vaccinations among teens often missed during doctor visits when teens could have been vaccinated

(RxWiki News) Many parents are aware of the vaccines that babies are recommended to get through their second birthday. But fewer parents may realize that teens should stay up to date with immunizations too.

A recent study found that many teens miss the chance to get one of three recommended vaccines when they visit their pediatricians.

More than eight in ten teens don't get their first shots or booster shots to protect against meningitis-related disease, whooping cough and human papillomavirus (HPV).

Yet teens who had at least one preventive care check-up with their pediatrician were far more likely to have gotten these shots when they had the opportunity.

"Ask your pediatrician if your child is up to date on vaccines."

This study, led by Charlene A. Wong, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital, looked at "missed opportunities" for teens to be vaccinated against a number of diseases.

The vaccines the researchers looked at included those that protect against meningococcal disease, tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) and HPV.

Meningococcal disease can lead to a variety of life-threatening conditions that cause inflammation in the brain and/or spine.

Tetanus and diphtheria are rarer in the US, but pertussis (whooping cough) is still common in many areas and can involve many weeks or months of intense coughing.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer and a number of other cancers, including anal, penile, throat and neck cancers.

The researchers reviewed the records of 1,628 adolescents, aged 11 to 18, who made a total of 9,180 visits to their doctors between 2006 and 2011. The visits included any appointment at all, whether a check-up or for a specific complaint.

The researchers looked at all the times when the teens were eligible to receive one of these vaccinations but did not receive them.

For the HPV vaccine, the researchers only included females in their analysis. Currently, the CDC recommends that girls are vaccinated against HPV starting at age 11.

The researchers found that a considerably high percentage of visits occurred where a child could have been vaccinated with a recommended immunization but was not.

In 82 percent of all the visits studied, the teen was eligible to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease but did not get the shot.

In addition, in 85 percent of the visits, the teen could have gotten the Tdap shot but did not.

With the HPV shot, 82 percent of the girls' visits to their doctors did not result in getting the first HPV shot even though they were eligible for it and it was recommended.

The HPV vaccine involves a total of three shots. In 63 percent of the visits, a teen was eligible for the second HPV shot but did not get it.

In 71 percent of the visits, a female teen could have gotten the third HPV booster but did not.

Yet one thing that made teens more likely to be up to date on their vaccines was having at least one preventive care visit to their pediatrician.

A preventive care visit is an annual check-up in which a person sees the doctor for overall health, not for a particular health problem or complaint.

Teens with at least one preventive care visit were much less likely to have "missed" the chance to get any of these three vaccines.

Yet teens who had no preventive care visits were 19 times more likely to have missed getting the meningococcal vaccine than those with at least one preventive care visit.

Those with no preventive care visits were 26 times more likely not to get the Tdap and 12 times more likely not to get the first HPV shot, compared to kids with at least one preventive care visit.

Among the girls, missing a chance to get the first HPV shot was more common than missing an opportunity to get the Tdap or meningococcal vaccines.

The researchers concluded that missing the opportunity to be up to date on these vaccines was common among teens.

Yet teens who use preventive care were less likely to miss those opportunities.

This study was published June 27 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The research was funded by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine Career Development Award 2011. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 6, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013