As thousands of East Valley parents and their kids line up for immunizations in the last days of summer vacation, preteen girls had better brace themselves.
Doctors are recommending at least three new shots for 11-and 12-year-old girls to protect them against whooping cough, meningitis and cervical cancer, and many parents are finding out after they walk into the examination room.
“These are new vaccines. And in the mind of many, many parents, when you talk about shots, you think of baby shots and taking your baby in,” said Jennifer Tinney, program manager for the Arizona Partnership for Immunization.
That’s why Tinney’s group and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched a campaign to make families and doctor’s offices aware of the new shots. Older children typically get fewer routine checkups, so it’s also a way to get busy teens and preteens into the doctor’s office.
“Once you have this healthy, 6-foot-tall teenager, the last thing you think of is, ‘Did they have their whooping cough vaccine?’” Tinney said.
None of the new vaccines are required statewide for school admittance, though the whooping cough booster and meningitis vaccine will be required in 2008.
But the Mesa Unified School District sent letters to parents this summer saying their preteens need the booster shot, which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria, before starting classes Monday.
Vickie Parra’s 12-year-old daughter got three shots this week. She would have had a fourth but her father wanted more time to research Gardasil, the new vaccine that protects against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the most common cause of cervical cancer.
In addition to the meningitis and whooping cough vaccines, Parra’s daughter also needed a chicken pox shot.
“I was not aware that anybody needed any shots until the school sent home the paperwork,” said Parra, whose 14-year-old son also got immunized against meningitis and whooping cough.
The whooping cough, or pertussis, booster first hit doctor’s offices in the summer of 2005 following a surge of the disease nationwide. Though children are immunized against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis in infancy, the protection wears off in early adolescence.
Teens and adults represent about 60 percent of whooping cough cases and may spread the highly contagious disease to infants, who can die from it. So the booster shot is recommended for teens and any adult who comes in contact with babies.
The meningitis vaccine, often required for college freshmen, is now recommended for 11- and 12-year-olds, in order to protect them through adulthood.
Though viral meningitis is uncommon — from 1,400 to 2,800 cases a year — about 10 percent of teens will die from it and another 15 percent will have a long-term disability.
Preteens often engage in the same behaviors that spread the virus through college dorms, such as sharing drinks, food and lip gloss, said Machrina Leach, manager for Maricopa County’s community health nursing program.
The HPV vaccine, approved last summer, protects women against the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. About 6.2 million people get HPV every year in the U.S., and women have an 80 percent chance of getting the virus by the time they reach 50, according to the CDC.
The vaccine has been controversial, in part because some groups worry that it sends the message that it’s OK to have premarital sex. Anti-vaccination and conservative groups have lobbied against requiring it for schoolchildren.
The county health department runs four free child immunization clinics, including two in Mesa, and works with fire departments and hospitals that also offer free shots.
Leach said in the busy days before school starts, each clinic has been giving out about 400 shots a day.
It’s important to bring your child’s immunization record if you plan to visit a county clinic for free vaccinations.
In addition to getting caught up on shots, the preteen checkup also opens the door for doctors to talk about nutrition, safety, puberty and other health topics that emerge during the teen years.
“Once they get into high school, they start to get into clubs and after-school activities and all that social stuff,” Leach said. “It’s just a little bit easier to get that middle school kid in.”
To find out which shots your kids need and where to find them, go to www.whyimmunize.org or call the Arizona Partnership for Immunization at (602) 288-7567.
Also see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/ preteen/