Why does the 16-year vaccine visit matter?
Some vaccines are specifically recommended at age 16 years. The 16-year visit is the time to see your healthcare provider to talk about and get the recommended vaccines. The 16-year vaccine visit is also an opportunity to review the vaccines you received throughout childhood and early adolescence and to see that you’re completely up to date.
Many adolescents feel invincible, lead very busy lives, and are not thinking about disease prevention. It’s important to stay up to date on recommended vaccines throughout your whole life. Sixteen is a critical age for vaccines because the vaccines recommended at this age can help extend protection against vaccine-preventable diseases into late adolescence and early adulthood.
What should happen at my 16-year vaccine visit?
In terms of vaccines, you can expect the following:
- Get the second dose of the MenACWY vaccine. You likely got the first dose at age 11 or 12. The MenACWY vaccine helps to protect against four types of meningococcal bacteria, which cause meningococcal disease, often referred to as bacterial meningitis. The second dose helps provide essential protection during later teen years, when the risk of contracting the disease increases.
- Talk to your doctor about the MenB vaccine. This vaccine helps to protect against a fifth type of meningococcal bacterial (B), which has caused many of the cases of bacterial meningitis that have been reported on U.S. college campuses in recent years. It’s best to get this vaccine as close to entering college (if applicable) as possible.
- Get your annual flu vaccine (if it’s flu season or leading up to flu season. This vaccine is recommended annually for every flu season.)
- Catch-up for the HPV vaccine series. This is recommended to be completed at age 11-12 years and can help protect against cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), including cervical cancer.
- Catch-up for the Tdap vaccine booster. This is also recommended for all eligible adolescents aged 11-12 years. Tdap vaccine helps protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
Of course, the 16-year visit is also a great opportunity to check in with a healthcare professional about any other concerns about health and well-being.
Adolescent vaccines can save lives
Allison Shaw (Little Rock, AK) survived meningococcal disease at age 18. She was on a spring break trip in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with friends during her senior year of high school when she started feeling sick and landed in the hospital, where she had a seizure, stroke, and was placed in a medically-induced coma. Hospital staff told Allison’s parents she would likely be deceased when they arrived, but Allison survived.
In her own words: “When I was in the hospital and they woke me up from the coma, they told me, ‘You had meningitis.’ To which I replied, ‘What is that?’ I’d never heard of it before. I didn’t receive any vaccination for meningitis. I was never aware that there was a meningitis vaccination available.”
Allison got a tattoo on her hand to spark conversation about disease prevention and vaccination. When people ask what her tattoo means, Allison asks if they’ve heard of meningitis and if they’ve been vaccinated.
Pedro Pimenta (Florida by way of Brazil) was 18 years old when he survived meningococcal disease. He was athletic, social, and a strong high school student living in Brazil. One day after school Pedro started feeling sick, but a doctor examined him and told him it was just the flu. But soon he could barely move, and his sister-in-law, a doctor, recognized his symptoms as bacterial meningitis.
In his own words: “The last memory I have was going into the ambulance, seeing my brothers cry, and a week later I woke up from a coma … I looked at my silhouette under the sheets, and my body was different.”
All of Pedro’s limbs were amputated above the elbow and knee. He now lives completely independently with prosthetic limbs (no wheelchair) and works as a motivational speaker. Before he got sick, he had never heard of bacterial meningitis or the vaccines that can help protect against it.
Caitlin Brison (Tennessee) had begun her freshman year at Middle Tennessee State University when she was commuting to her part-time job and began vomiting. She developed a fever and a purple rash, prompting her mother to rush Caitlin to the emergency room. Doctors there confirmed she had bacterial meningitis.
In her own words: “I was so sick. Dialysis was so hard on my body, I hated it. I hated every second. I had to grow up really quickly. And I didn’t want to.”
“I think back, and it makes me want to beat my head because I can still, plain as day, like it was yesterday, remember the doctor asking me if I wanted the vaccination. My first question was, ‘Do I have to have it?’ He said no. I said no. And that was a big, big mistake.”
Teen vaccine FAQs
Are vaccines covered by my insurance?
Yes. You shouldn’t have to pay out-of-pocket for your 16-year CDC recommended vaccines.
What is meningococcal disease and why should I care?
Meningococcal disease, commonly referred to as bacterial meningitis, is caused by the bacteria meningococcus. It includes an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, called meningitis. Meningococcal disease is relatively rare, but it can be deadly, killing 1 of every 7 to 10 people who get it. It strikes quickly, often within 24 hours. Adolescents and young adults are among the groups most vulnerable to the disease, especially those of college age and/or attending college. Meningococcal disease is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions that can happen through kissing and sharing beverages. Of note, people living in close quarters – like college dorms, overnight camps, military barracks – may be at higher risk.
If I’ve already gotten several vaccines at age 11-12, why do I need to go back?
Vaccines are critical to your health at every age. Meningococcal meningitis vaccines are recommended specifically at age 16, and it’s also important to check in during the teen years to make sure you’ve been fully vaccinated according to recommendations.
What if I’m afraid of needles?
Lots of people are afraid of needles. Needlephobia prevents many people from getting vaccines that could help protect them against preventable diseases or lessen the severity of an illness. Don’t let fear of needles compromise your health! There are strategies you can use to cope, like breathing through the mouth, letting your arm hang limp “like a spaghetti noodle,” and imagining your favorite place, according to Patsy Stinchfield, senior director of infection prevention and control at Children’s Minnesota. While the process of getting vaccinated may not be enjoyable, the quick pinch and typically mild and short-lived pain and discomfort associated with the vaccination is worth a shot if it can help protect against serious and potentially life-threatening disease.
What in the world is an “adolescent immunization platform”?
The “adolescent immunization platform” refers to the vaccines (first-time and catch-up) recommended at the 16-year vaccine visit. The term “platform” refers to an acknowledgement that vaccines are important at every age, and at every juncture of your life, your healthcare professionals should be checking in with you about your vaccine history (what you’ve received) and to see that you’re up to date on vaccines recommended by the CDC.
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