By scheduling a well-child visit for their 11- or 12-year-old, parents can help protect their pre-teen’s health into the turbulent teen years and beyond, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
At this visit, kids can be immunized or re-vaccinated against whooping cough, meningitis and other serious infectious diseases.
It’s also an opportunity for parent, child and doctor to discuss health concerns that become increasingly important in adolescence, such as growth, nutrition and obesity; peer pressure, substance use and sex; and more, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told Reuters Health.
Currently, just 9 percent of pediatrician visits by 11- to 12-year-olds are for preventive care, Schuchat notes; the rest are for illness and injury. This means many parents and their pre-teens are missing an opportunity to update immunizations and address key health issues.
New recommended vaccines
With this in mind, the CDC and the AAP have launched their first-ever Preteen Vaccine campaign to increase awareness of three new vaccines now routinely recommended for 11- and 12-year olds. They include Tdap, a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) booster, and MCV4, which helps prevent meningitis, both introduced in 2005; and the cervical cancer-preventing human papilloma virus vaccine for girls, which became available last year.
“Most parents know about vaccines for babies,” Schuchat noted. “A lot of parents think that immunization ends at the beginning of elementary school, but that’s just not true.”
Immunity to some infectious diseases, such as whooping cough, begins to fade in the pre-teen years, she explained, making boosters particularly important. Moreover, in adolescence, kids become increasingly vulnerable to meningococcal meningitis, an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord that can lead to permanent disability or even death. “It’s a very tragic disease and now it can be prevented through the vaccine,” Schuchat said.
While some parents may question giving girls a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus at such a young age, this is actually the best time for them to be immunized against HPV, she added. Preteens have a stronger antibody response to the shot than young adults, Schuchat explained, and giving the vaccine — which requires a series of three injections — so early ensures that a girl is well protected years before sexual activity begins.
The cost of the shots shouldn’t worry, Schuchat noted. Health insurers typically cover immunizations recommended by the CDC, and the CDC’s Vaccinations for Children program will pay for immunizations for uninsured kids, she added, as long as a child’s pediatrician is participating in the program, and most do.
Another key issue for pre-teens is obesity, Schuchat noted. At this age, boys and girls are growing so quickly that they, and their parents, may not know if they are overweight or obese, and checking in with their pediatrician will give them a chance to talk about nutrition and exercise.
Finally, the pre-teen well-child visit is generally the first time that a pediatrician will speak to the child privately, which can help build a relationship that makes it possible for the child to address sensitive issues with his or her doctor down the road.