Immunizations for Teens

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Daughter was never immunized; doctor recommends them for college

April 2008

My 17 year old daughter has never been immunized and will going to college in the fall. I'm wary of immunizations but her doctor is recommending them and my daughter is saying that she wants them.

Does anybody have experience with first time immunizations for a teenager? I'm wondering about partial immunization, but don't know which ones are most relevant in general and at her age? Also her doctor was talking about bundling them (having her do them all at once) and I'm wondering about the pros and cons of doing them all together or spreading them out? And I know that there are version of some vaccines that don't have heavy metals mixed into them but I don't know where to get them...? Anon

Our kids have been partially vaccinated, so it is possible to get some of the vaccines and not others. We chose to get one vaccine at a time (although we did get the DTaP and the MMR, which are vaccines grouped together), so we did not do DTaP, MMR and Polio together like many people do. We felt this was a healthier way for our kids. There is one vaccine that is supposed to be good for college age kids, and I want to say it is menningitis, but I don't know for sure, but apparently the disease can be deadly and the vaccine is, I believe, effective. I am sure you will get other interesting responses to your question. anon

regarding bundling of immunizations, i would recommend against it. if you can spread these out over several months to a year it would be so much better. it is alot to ask of the immune system to adapt to all at once. you can only fight so many battles at a time! kate

Gardisal - HPV vaccine?

May 2008

I was wondering how other parents are handling the pressure to get their daughter the Gardisal (HPV) vaccinations? I have decided to have my daughter do it later in high school before she goes to college. However there is all this pressure to have it done before the girls turn 13. I know my daughter (yes, I know we all say that), and she really is not into boys and is not at risk at starting to be sexually active in the next few years. I know that this can change when she goes to college. She is going through a sensitive time with all the hormones and puberty stuff, a shot and the reasons for it could really mess her up right now. She didn't even want to have her ears pierced when she hit 12, the age we agreed she could do it. Is there any other reason, immunological/physiology wise, so make sure they get this between 11-13? Or do the ''experts'' just figure that parents have more control to make sure it happens at this age? Jeanne

It's wonderful that you're being so thoughtful about this and that you are planning to get your daughter the HPV vaccine during her teen years. I think the impetus to do it in middle school is just to make sure the entire series is done well before these girls do become sexually active. I know you think your daughter isn't going to become sexually active until she goes to college - and perhaps that will be the case. But the statistics say that's not a safe gamble. According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 23 percent of the state's high school freshmen and 38 percent of the juniors are sexually active. (And not to alarm you or anything, but ditto for 13 percent of the seventh graders.) Age 11 may be a tad early for your family, but I'd urge you to get it done before high school. Why take the chance? Jackie

When I went with my 13 year old daughter for a general checkup with her longtime pediatrician, the MD assumed she would be getting an HPV vaccine and I said no. There may or may not be a benefit to the general population of all teens for young teens to receive this vaccine on top of all their regular childhood vaccines, which I do support and have given to my children. But specifically for my daughter at this time, I see no reason for her to get this relatively new and very aggressively promoted (by its drug company developer) treatment when I'm quite sure she is currently at no risk. After a few years, we'll reconsider when there has been more time to see if the vaccine has any side effects, how effective it is at the explicit claims and implicit expectations re reducing cancer in a larger population than the experimental trial participants, when my daughter is more likely to be at even a small risk of HPV, and when there is serious discussion about vaccinating the males and not just the females. Mom with public health degree

My daughter had them at age 16 as they weren't offering it earlier, so really I don't think it makes a difference. But that said you may not know when she has sex and for her to be protected in all ways is the best. It happened all of a sudden with my daughter: becoming more interested in boys, getting her ears pierced, so I was glad that we had talked about using condoms, etc. early on. (There were times that she really didn't want to listen to what I had to say, but I think it sank in anyway.) I would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to uterine cancer. The vaccine takes a few months to complete as there are three shots to distribute over those months. Of course getting this vaccine could also be a big ploy by the big drug companies... anon

From a doctor friend of the family (infectious disease specialty):

There are three main reasons for doing it in that age group:

1) The vaccine is most effective in PREVENTING infection rather than having any effect on already established HPV infection. Thus, recommendations are to give the vaccine BEFORE girls become sexually active. The series takes several months to complete, so it's better to start early to make sure girls are covered before they initiate sexual activity. I know every parent thinks they know their kids, but you'd be surprised what the kids get up to without the parents knowing...

2) Parents do tend to have more input on when/if their kids go to the doctor's at this age. These years are often those of sports physicals or pre-camp physicals and it's a good opportunity to give vaccines. Older teens and adults are TERRIBLE about seeing the doctor on their own for preventative health care, including vaccines. (how many adults do you know who have their tetanus shots (Tdap which now includes pertussis) up-to-date?)

3) Studies were done in girls this age, so recommendations were made for administration during these years.

Also, parents may consider discussing this with their children as a means of preventing cervical cancer rather than preventing an STD. Ultimately that is the purpose of the vaccine but I think the ''sexually transmitted disease'' part of it gets the majority of the press and layperson attention rather than the truly amazing potential to prevent an extremely serious cancer with a simple series of three shots.

I understand your concern. As an RN, I came to understand that although healthcare professionals push the administration of this vaccine to early adolescents, it will remain effective during their adult years. This means, even if they remain pure until marraige, the vaccine will not be a waist. I understand the contraversy. That's why I decided not to go into too much detail with my 12-year old daughter when she got it. I simply explained that the vaccine was meant to help reduce the risk for cervical cancer. She was OK with that explaination and did not probe further. Marilynn

There is much evidence to show that Gardasil poses a serious risk to the health of the very girls that Merck's marketing targets. See reports of adverse effects at Judicial Watch: (, ''As of May 11, 2007, the 1,637 adverse vaccination reactions reported to the FDA via the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) included 371 serious reactions.'' Furthermore, there is no evidence that HPV 'causes' cervical cancer. In fact, cervical cancer accounts for only about 1% of all cancer deaths in women, and routing pap screening is time-tested and safe. There is plenty of information available online. The National Vaccine Information Center is one good place to start: See also Alliance for Human Research Protection: Just Saying NO to Big Pharma

Why vaccinate 13 year olds? The vaccine is more effective if given before the beginning of sexual activity, and some kids start quite young. However, I decided I don't want my kids to get it. I talked to them about the pros and cons of sexual activity and asked them to use condoms, especially the first time. Condoms protect against other diseases, too. I think they are the better choice, along with limiting the number of partners and regular pap smears. I also asked my kids to stick with just kissing until they have been dating the same person for at least six months. But I also tell them that it is their body and their choice. When it comes right down to it, it is impossible to control a teenager. anon

My daughter did the Gardasil series last year during her senior year of high school. I daresay you'll receive responses about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of urging her to get the shots. I urged my daughter to do so because I contracted HPV from a boyfriend when I was in my '20s, and then had some peculiar pap smear results when I was 50, necessitating treatment for a possible pre-cancerous condition.

I, too, assumed that my daughter would wait for college to start having sex. She was a ''good girl'': bookish, opinionated, did her homework, didn't cut class or mess around with alcohol/drugs; was actually a bit puritanical in her attitudes. While in middle school, and later, she assured me--and at the time probably believed it herself-- that she wasn't interested in sex.

Well, she and her first boyfriend were having sex when they were 16. I wasn't pleased, but I knew they were using at least two forms of birth control, including condoms, and learned to live with my knowledge (after a few days of weeping and mild hysterics). I think that our talks about sex--emotions, ''mechanics,'' decision making, birth control, STDs, etc.--helped her decide that (1) she wanted sex at that particular age and (2) she certainly didn't want to get pregnant. My daughter, at my suggestion, read some articles about HPV, the Gardasil vaccine, etc., and decided to do the series, even though she's kind of needle- phobic.

So I guess what I want to stress is the importance of calm, straightforward communication with our sons and daughters and of not ever assuming too much. They are full of surprises, pleasant and otherwise. Anonymous

Our pediatrician has told us to wait a few years to immunize our 12-year-old. I think this is because more effective vaccines may be available in a couple of years. My daughter has begun menstruating, but is a long way from having a boyfriend. The pediatrician has been wonderful in many ways, and in general has assumed we would do all the immunizations which we did except for one that caused a reaction(pertussis???). anon

I think that the reason for the Gardisal vaccine is to help prevent cervical cancer in our daughters. My 15 year old just finished the vaccine series. She is not sexually active and is no where near making that decision. Yet, the possibility of protecting her from cervical cancer was not a question in my mind.

I gather that your young teen had the Hepatitis B vaccines, the ones required for kids before they enter 7th grade, by state law. Did that vaccine and the reason for it mess up your daughter? Truly, I do not know if my 15 year old will have sex before she turns 18. I hope not. Yet, for me the issue is cancer prevention not sexual activity. I cannot guarantee that she will not be sexually active before college and that she will tell me when she makes that decision. I can guarantee that I can get her vaccinated, with no upset with my daughter, who also does not like needles. The explanation to my daughter was this vaccine will reduce your risk of getting cervical cancer. I want you to have this vaccine to help protect your health now and in the future. Period. anon

This Gardisal question is a good one. Having a 14 year old girl, I've been trying to educated myself about this drug. Some facts i've collected: HPV - in more than 90% of cases the infections are harmless and go away without treatment. HPV-16 - is found in 50% of cervical cancers. The vast majority of HPV infections do not progress to cervical cancer. The drug is new (2006) and was tested on 2,392 women. Of these 859 were excluded because of pre- infection. (i.e. small study) The vaccine offers no protection against other types of HPV that can also cause cervical cancer - only HPV-16. In addition it's unknown whether the vaccine's protection against HPV-16 is long- lasting. (All this from National Cancer Institute Website) While the study period was not long enough for cervical cancer to develop, the prevention of these cervical precancerous lesions is believed highly likely to result in the prevention of those cancers. - (FDA website) I'm personally wary of Merck's aggressive campaign to convince states to make it mandatory for girls. They are making a bundle on this ($300 per injection x 3 doses). I'm wondering if Gardisil is too new and has yet to be subjected to enough scrutiny. Love to hear other opinions. Very Concerned