Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper has proclaimed July as Adolescent Immunization Awareness Month to highlight the importance of immunizations for North Carolina’s preteens and teens. As teachers, parents and students are preparing for the start of the 2021-2022 school year, public health officials remind parents and guardians to ensure their teens and preteens are current on all their vaccinations and encourage health care providers to take steps to ensure their young patients are up to date.
Over the past year, well child health care visits have decreased in some cases due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Data shows many North Carolina youth are behind on immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, meningococcal meningitis, measles and HPV. As of June 29, only 25 percent of youth ages 12-17 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is collaborating with partners, including the North Carolina Pediatric Society, North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians and local health departments, on an awareness campaign to help ensure adolescents are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases — including COVID-19.
“As children move into their preteen and teen years, they become more susceptible to certain diseases, making it especially important to stay current with immunizations. At the same time, preteens and teens tend to have fewer visits to their doctor’s office, increasing the chance that they are not up to date,” said Dr. Jessica L. Triche, president of the NC Academy of Family Physicians. “This decrease in immunizations accelerated among adolescents during the pandemic, when stay-at-home orders went into effect.”
For preteens ages 11-12, the following four vaccines are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
♦ Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) to protect against some of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease, including meningitis.
♦ Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
♦ Human papillomavirus vaccine to help protect from HPV infection and cancers caused by HPV.
♦ Influenza vaccine to protect against the flu at the onset of the flu season
An important change was implemented for the 2020-2021 school year. A booster dose of MCV4 is now required at age 16 and before entering the 12th grade. Depending on risk factors, some teens may also need serogroup B meningococcal vaccine. Parents with teenagers should talk to their pediatrician or family physician about which vaccines are appropriate.
In addition to routine vaccines, everyone 12 years and older is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“This vaccine is very safe and effective and can be given at the same time as vaccines required for school,” said State Health Director and NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, MPH. “We encourage all parents to talk with their preteen’s or teen’s doctor about this important vaccine and its benefits.”
“Adolescent Immunization Awareness Month is an important reminder for families to make sure their children are up to date on vaccines,” said Dr. Christoph Diasio, president of the N.C. Pediatric Society. “Even if parents were delayed in getting their children in due to COVID-19, now is the time to schedule well child and vaccination appointments, especially for year-round schools and sports.”
Many pediatricians and family practitioners will provide the COVID-19 vaccine for all eligible family members, as well as their adolescent patient(s), during that same visit.
More information, including a list of all required North Carolina school immunizations, from kindergarten through 12th grade is available at www.immunize.nc.gov/family. Additional information on vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases is available on the CDC’s website. The COVID-19 North Carolina Dashboard provides an overview of additional COVID-19-related information and metrics the state is monitoring.
The Vaccines for Children program offers free vaccines to families who cannot afford to pay for their children’s vaccines (through 19 years of age), and federal law requires most private insurance plans, including Medicaid, to cover recommended preventive services such as vaccinations at no out-of-pocket cost. The COVID-19 vaccine is available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay or immigration status.