LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Parents might think they're all done with vaccinating children once they're kids are out of diapers, but now there are several new or improved vaccines for pre-teens.
Dr. Jeanne Santoli is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She says parents need to think about bringing their young adolescents to the doctor even if the kids have no health problems.
Dr. Santoli, welcome.
Dr. JEANNE SANTOLI (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta): Thank you.
WERTHEIMER: Tell me why a healthy adolescent would need to be vaccinated, and for what.
Dr. SANTOLI: Well, in the last couple of years, there have been three new vaccines that help us to protect adolescents against diseases that are either new or diseases we weren't protecting adolescents against before.
WERTHEIMER: What kinds of things are we talking about?
Dr. SANTOLI: Well, there's a vaccine now that allows us to give a booster against pertussis to teenagers. In addition...
WERTHEIMER: That is whooping cough.
Dr. SANTOLI: Absolutely. In addition, there's also a vaccine against a serious form of meningitis called meningococcal meningitis.
Dr. SANTOLI: And then finally, there's now a vaccine against human papillomavirus, which is a cause of cervical cancer in the United States.
WERTHEIMER: Cervical cancer, obviously, human papillomavirus, which is spread, I believe, through sexual contact, is that right?
Dr. SANTOLI: It is. It's a sexually-transmitted disease.
WERTHEIMER: Well, these seem like more adult problems. Would you expect some sort of resistance to vaccinating very young teenagers for HPV?
Dr. SANTOLI: We have a great screening program, but in the U.S., every year, about 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 3,000 die from cervical cancer. So I think the fact that we have a vaccine that contains four strains of the virus, and two of those strains actually cause 70 percent of the cases of cervical cancer in the U.S. is a very compelling reason, I think, for parents to want to vaccinate their young children against this disease.
WERTHEIMER: Could you just explain to me why you think that you want to do this kind of vaccination so very young?
Dr. SANTOLI: Well, what we've learned about the vaccine in the trials, it is actually 100 percent effective against the four strains that are in the vaccine, and it's most effective when given before children have become sexually active.
WERTHEIMER: I understand that the meningitis vaccine has been recommended for high-risk kids only in the past. Are you recommending it now for everybody?
Dr. SANTOLI: We are. It's a different vaccine, and it has better and longer lasting immunity. So now it's actually recommended for all adolescents.
WERTHEIMER: What about whooping cough? Little kids get that vaccination. Why would they need another one? What is the point of boosters for pertussis?
Dr. SANTOLI: We know that this disease is a lot more serious in young children than it is in older children. So vaccinating teenagers can protect the teenagers, of course, but it can also prevent them from exposing young children to pertussis.
WERTHEIMER: Will 11 and 12 year olds have to get these new vaccinations in order to go to school?
Dr. SANTOLI: Depending on where you live, there may be requirements for some or all of these vaccines. The vaccines are still pretty new, so there may not be requirements in place right now. And it's something parents can talk to their schools about.
WERTHEIMER: There are parents, though, who don't even like the idea of vaccinating infants because they think that there's a big health risk. Do these new vaccines cause any problems for adolescents?
Dr. SANTOLI: We haven't found any problem that's caused us to think these vaccines aren't the right thing to recommend for all adolescents, but it is something that we'll continue to watch carefully because, obviously, that's very important.
WERTHEIMER: Dr. Santoli, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
Dr. SANTOLI: Thank you very much for the chance.
WERTHEIMER: Dr. Jeanne Santoli is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She spoke to us from Atlanta.