Teenagers could be at risk of some nasty and even deadly diseases after many fell behind with routine vaccinations during the pandemic.
That’s according to the The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which is now urging parents to make sure their teens are up to date with their jabs, before leaving school or starting university.
‘It’s worrying news as the illnesses some teenagers are being left unprotected against – like meningitis, diphtheria, polio and tetanus – can be serious if you get them. Although it’s never a good idea to fall behind with routine vaccinations, which are protecting others as well as just you, the good news is you can still have them at a later date and it’s definitely a case of better late than never,’ says ZoomDoc GP, Dr Jenny Ellenbogen.
If your teenager has fallen behind with theirs, make sure you know what they still need to have and how to catch up – for their protection, as well as others’.
Which vaccines should your teenager have had?
By the time your child has started secondary school they should have had all their routine baby and childhood immunisations, including the MMR, Meningitis B and 6-in-1 (against whooping cough, diphtheria, polio, tetanus, Hib and hepatitis B). They’ll also need booster shots and annual flu vaccines.
Which vaccines are due at secondary school?
Once they’re at secondary school, the next set of vaccinations are due in years 8, 9 and 10.
When they turn 12/13 (year 8) they’ll be eligible for the HPV vaccine, which helps protect against:
- cervical cancer
- some mouth and throat (head and neck) cancers
- some cancers of the anal and genital areas
- genital warts.
‘This is a relatively recent vaccine introduced in 2012 to protect girls and boys against a group of viruses that can cause cancers. It requires 2 doses, given 6-24 months apart,’ says Dr Jenny.
Then, when they’re 13-15 (year 9 or 10), they’re due two more vital vaccines:
- The 3-in-1 teenage booster – this is their 5th and final dose, for full protection against tetanus, diphtheria and polio ‘3 horrible diseases that no one should be catching in the 21st century,’ says Dr Jenny.
- Men ACWY – this 4-in-1 vaccine offers protection against 4 strains of meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W and Y – which cause meningitis and blood poisoning (septicaemia) and can be deadly.
Why are teens missing out on vaccinations?
Before the pandemic uptake for teenage vaccinations was around 88% (source: UKHSA) but records for last academic year (2021/22) show that only around 69% of teens had theirs (aged 13/14). Disruption to school caused by the pandemic hasn’t helped, but vaccine hesitancy or vaccine fatigue is also behind a lower-than-ideal uptake.
The UKHSA and GPs, including Dr Jenny, want to remind parents that vaccines are safe and effective.
‘These vaccines (as with all routine vaccinations in the UK) have gone through very strict safety checks, both by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) and by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) who look at clinical trials’ data and safety data before approving them for children,’ says Dr Jenny.
Steve Russell, National Director for Vaccination and Screening, agrees. He says:
‘The 3-in-1 teenage booster and the MenACWY vaccination are extremely well-researched and proven to provide protection against a range of diseases that can cause serious illness.
NHS School Aged Immunisation Services offer these vaccinations in secondary schools, as well as the HPV vaccination that protects against a range of cancers and we strongly urge those eligible and their family members and guardians to ensure they are up to date, and if not to come forward for their vaccines as soon as possible – it’s the best way to keep you protected.’
What to do if your teen has missed their vaccines
If your teenager is behind on their routine jabs, talk to your GP or school office about this if they’re still at school. If they’ve already left school, they can still have their jabs at a GP practice right up until the age of 25.
‘It’s really important for teens to be protected anyway, but especially so if they’re going to university and mixing with large numbers of students, or are off travelling to countries where these diseases are more prevalent than in the UK,’ says Dr Jenny.
NHS advice says the Meningitis vaccine is particularly important for those going to university.
It says, ‘students should contact their GP to have the MenACWY vaccine before starting university or college. If that’s not possible, they should have it as soon as they can after they begin university.’
‘If your child hasn’t had any vaccinations at all and you’d like them to start now, call your GP practice for advice on what they need and when they can have them,’ says Dr Jenny.