The One about Vaccines: The Teen Years (TDaP, MCV, and HPV)

During the grade school years, children receive a nice break from routine vaccines (with the exception of yearly influenza vaccination), but come middle school ages, it is time for boosting immunity against Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (TdaP), introducing the meningococcal vaccine, and discussing protection from Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).


Let’s go through these one by one…

TdaP Vaccine: Protection from Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Whooping cough)

This vaccine boosts immunity to these 3 bacterial infections that children received previous vaccination for as babies.  By the adolescent years, immunity is waning and therefore a booster is given.

What are these diseases? Tetanus: Tetanus is a life-threatening bacterial infection caused by Clostritium tetani that causes muscles spasm and tightening, and is commonly referred to as “lockjaw.”  Tetanus bacteria are everywhere, living in soil, dust, and manure and cause infection when they are introduced to the body through injury to the skin.  Puncture wounds are some of the most common wounds that contribute to infection from tetanus bacteria.

Because tetanus causes muscle tightening, it becomes difficult to swallow  and breathe, and 10-20% of cases are fatal.  Though the bacteria are all around us, fortunately tetanus infection is low due to high vaccination rates.

Diphtheria: Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae that most often infects the respiratory tract leading to fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and weakness.  The illness is spread through respiratory droplets or contact with a contaminated skin lesion.  The bacteria produces a toxin that causes a film of dead tissue (called a pseudomembrane) to cover the nasal tissue, tonsils, and throat, and can make breathing and swallowing difficult.  Complications can lead to damage of the heart, kidneys, and nervous system.  Even with treatment, 1 in 10 patients with diphtheria will die of the disease.  Since the vaccine was introduced in the 1920s, the rate of disease has decreased dramatically and it is no longer seen in the US.  As of 2011, almost 5,000 cases were reported worldwide.

Pertussis: Pertussis is a bacterial infection caused by Bordatella pertussis that can result in respiratory infection characterized by a severe cough that makes it difficult to breathe.  It is highly contagious and is transmitted by respiratory droplet.  Illness begins with cold like symptoms such as cough and congestion, and progresses to a worsening cough.  In children, coughing fits often end in a “whoop” sound, hence the name.  This is not the kind of “Whoop!” this Aggie likes to hear!  Pertussis is often referred to as the “100 day cough” because it can linger for months.  Disease is most severe and life-threatening in infants and young children.  I have personally seen a child in the ICU dying of pertussis and others severely ill and hospitalized.  Adults and adolescents often have waned immunity to this disease and act as carriers to the little ones they care about most.  Unfortunately, there has been a resurgence of pertussis in the US and our community in recent years.  The best way to combat this is to increase vaccination rates in people of all ages.

Tell me more about the meningococcal vaccine:

Neisseria Meningitidis is a bacteria that causes meningitis and septicemia (infection in the bloodstream) that can be quick in onset and lead to permanent neurologic damage or death.  Meningitis is an infection of the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain.  Symptoms of meningitis include rapid onset of fever, headache and stiff neck and can also include vomiting, change in alertness or visual problems. Septicemia is infection in the bloodstream that can cause bleeding into internal organs and lead to death.  This bacteria is the cause of outbreaks of meningitis that you used to hear more news stories about breaking out on college campuses because people living in close quarters, such as college dorms, are at increased risk.  Most colleges now require vaccination prior to entry.  This vaccine is given at age 11 or 12 and again at 16, though this bacterial infection can occur in younger childhood or infancy.

Most teenagers receive their vaccines with minimal protest, but for those who are anxious or more dramatic about vaccines, we can at least get it over with quickly!

Coming up next: the HPV vaccine