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Back to school? Check your child's immunizations

Monday - 8/20/2012, 7:45am  ET

AP: 0ac9b08b-52b1-41bc-9280-e29cb16bd59a
Maniyah Boykins, 5, braces for the prick of the needle while receiving an immunization shot during the Whitehaven Community Health Fair at Hillcrest High School in Memphis, Tenn. Back-to-school time typically means immunization time for most school-age children. (AP/The Commercial Appeal, Mark Weber)

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - It's back-to-school time and for many parents that means making sure their children's immunizations are up-to-date.

"There are actually about 14 different vaccines that kids need and they come at all different times," says Dr. Lee Beers, a pediatrician at the Children's Health Center at Children's National Medical Center.

The medical center also runs "It's Wise to Immunize," a program meant to increase immunization rates.

Beers says it's difficult for any parent to keep track, and that's why annual checkups for school-age children are key.

"At every visit, your doctor can take a look at your shot record," says Beers. "They can make sure that everything is up-to-date. They can make sure that you stay on top of things."

But it's not just elementary school children who need checkups. Middle-schoolers and teens should get annual wellness checks, too.

For pre-teens, there's something new this back-to-school season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging 11- and 12-year-old boys to get the HPV vaccine, which has been recommended for girls for several years.

Beers acknowledges there has been controversy surrounding the vaccine, in part because "it is a vaccine associated with a virus that is (transmitted through) a sexually transmitted infection."

But Beers says it's important to remember it's been "very well studied and tested and is very safe."

The vaccines prevent the types of HPV that cause most types of cervical cancer. There are two types of vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil.

Gardasil has been shown to prevent types of HPV that cause genital warts as well as prevent some cancers of the anus, vulva and vagina. Gardasil is the only HPV vaccine recommended for boys. Men can be vaccinated through age 26, but the vaccine is most effective for younger people.

The initial focus was on girls because they are at greater risk of developing these cancers later in life. But men can get some of the cancers too and Beers says "actually, the thought all along was that ultimately, it would be recommended for boys."

More information about the HPV vaccine and teens is available from the CDC as well as guidelines for vaccines at any age.

Immunize.org also offers a complete summary of recommended vaccines through age 18.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)