Teens need vaccines!

Infectious Disease Specialist Maggie Turner, R.N., won’t ever forget the report on a college student who came home over winter break. Turner, who now practices at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix, was working at a health department in Michigan at the time. The student “had been snowmobiling,” she says. “He went to bed, got up the next morning, had a fever, headache and was aching all over. They thought he had the flu; it was going around at the time. Six hours later, he was dead.”

Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection that can cause meningitis, bloodstream infection and other localized infections. Symptoms develop and progress rapidly, and can even lead to death—all in just 24 to 48 hours. Between 2000 and 2007, an average of 15 cases per year occurred in Maricopa County; the highest fatality rate was among 18- to 24-year-olds.

That’s why, starting in the fall of 2008, the state of Arizona began requiring vaccinations to protect against meningococcal disease for all students 11 years and older who are entering the sixth grade. The Tdap vaccine, to protect against pertussis (“whooping cough”), diphtheria and tetanus, also is required at that time if five years have passed since the child’s last booster.

Safe and effective vaccines to protect preteens and teens are easily available but vaccination rates remain alarmingly low, according to the Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM). So, the organization has partnered with the NBA and the WNBA to launch a national multimedia campaign.

“Vaccines for Teens” will roll out a series of additional initiatives as part of the campaign, including educational materials distributed through the leagues’ Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA program and a newly launched website, vaccinesforteens.org, to educate teens and their parents and encourage them to discuss immunization with their health care providers.

The site also supplies information about HPV and influenza. It includes a run-down of the symptoms of each disease, a list of resources and facts on transmission—and prevention.

It is hoped that the popularity of professional basketball will help the message permeate the adolescent audience and encourage their families to take steps to prevent severe illness and death. With the new requirements in place in Arizona, Turner is optimistic that she won’t hear any more heartbreaking news like she did that winter in Michigan. “I just think it is fabulous,” she says. “I really have to applaud the state.”