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Herd Immunity and the Importance of Vaccines for Teens

In recent years, increasing vaccination rates for teenagers has become a public health priority. Many new vaccines have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in adolescents, such as the COVID-19 vaccine.

Steven Shapiro, DO, chair, Department of Pediatrics, Jefferson Health – Abington, has been a longtime advocate for the use of vaccines in children. “The positive benefits that come from the proper use of a vaccine,” he says, “are unable to be replicated any other way.”

The key to a vaccine’s efficacy—its ability to work effectively—is to reach a “critical percentile” of the population vaccinated. When this percentile is hit, that population develops herd immunity, the indirect protection against infectious diseases.

“We can never expect vaccines to be 100 percent effective because there will always be people who won't produce antibodies as a result of being vaccinated,” says Dr. Shapiro. “If you have enough kids and people that are properly immunized, then you'll form a very secure herd immunity. For example, you'll find that in regards to the MMR—Measles, Mumps, Rubella—vaccine, the critical percentile is somewhere around 73 percent of the population that needs to be immunized. As soon as that number is achieved, the population begins to develop a herd immunity.”

Attitudes towards adolescent vaccination can also lead to vaccines failing to fulfill their full potential. The decision-making around vaccines that happens between parents and their children can have a big impact on vaccine efficacy.

“That becomes an issue on how we, the providers, speak to our patients. I don't think we've gotten it quite right in regards to the HPV vaccine, because despite its safety and efficacy, you still find a lot of resistance to it in some situations,” advises Shapiro. “There has to be a dynamic partnership between me (the doctor) and whomever I’m talking to, whether that be a parent and their child or an emancipated minor.”

Some teenagers who haven’t received all or any vaccines may encounter difficulties when dealing with schools, whether they’re in the public school system, or applying to college. Very commonly, students are required to have certain vaccinations in order to attend college. These vaccines fight against diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis, chickenpox and measles.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone 12 and older take the COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in children 12 and older. To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine, please visit https://www.jeffersonhealth.org/coronavirus-covid-19/vaccination-clinics.html to make an appointment.

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