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Many Parents Aren't Aware Their Teens Need Crucial Vaccines

A new poll suggests important immunizations for diseases like HPV and meningitis are falling by the wayside because parents don't know their teens need them.

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Most parents know their babies and young kids will need a full schedule of vaccines before starting school. But according to a new poll from the University of Michigan, fewer parents are as familiar with vaccines kids should have later in life, like the HPV vaccine. As a result, researchers say teens may be missing out on crucial immunizations.

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, which looked at responses from over 600 parents of 13- to 17-year-olds, reveals that one-third of moms and dads of teens didn't know when their next vaccine was due. Half of parents thought their child's doctor would contact them when a vaccine was due, which isn't true.

It's definitely a reasonable assumption, though, given that when kids are little, pediatrician visits typically coincide with when shots are needed. It's also worth noting that middle and high schools don't always have vaccine requirements like elementary schools do, which is another reason parents aren't in the know.

"As children get older, well-child appointments occur less often and health providers may not address vaccines during brief visits for sickness or injury," says Sarah Clark, M.P.H., the poll's co-director. "Many teens may be missing out on important vaccines simply because families aren't aware it's time for one."

We know vaccine rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), specifically, are low among teens. Consider that just 41 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys in the U.S. have completed the recommended vaccine series, which is currently two doses before age 15. Similarly, the teen meningitis and seasonal flu vaccine rates remain low. The current advice is that teens get a meningitis vaccine at age 16.

Clark calls on doctors to take action in light of the poll's findings. "Given the general lack of awareness about adolescent vaccines shown in this poll, there is a clear need for providers to be more proactive for their teen patients," she said.

If you are unsure of when your preteen or teen is due for another vaccine, visit the CDC's site to view a printable schedule.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger/mom. Find her on Facebook and Instagram where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.