Congratulations on the new high school graduate! Now that you’ve gotten through the tizzy of proms and robes and ceremonies, your summer will probably be full of shopping errands to get your graduate ready to head to college. Extra-long bed sheets, laundry supplies that you hope your teen will use regularly, a few decorative items to brighten up that sterile-looking dorm room.
Wise parents add this necessary and potentially life-saving item to their lists: A doctor visit for pre-college vaccinations.
Of course, vaccination is important during the years before college. But dormitory life creates extra challenges to health. Young people live in close quarters, often sharing food and drink with each other. There are romances and sometimes less than scrupulously clean dorm rooms. The hard work of college courses and infamous all-nighters can stress the immune system.
That’s why college students are considered at risk for meningitis; in fact, Texas law requires vaccination against meningococcal disease before heading off to dorm life. But that life-threatening disease isn’t the only one that calls for prevention.
It’s hard to be a successful college student when health problems make it hard or even impossible to get out of bed for a week or more.
These are the vaccinations that the government recommends for students about to start the college year:
Meningococcal disease. Fortunately, this disease occurs rarely, but when it does, it can swiftly cause permanent injury, including the need to amputate limbs. It can even result in death, and college students are considered at higher risk for being stricken. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, first-year college students who live in dorms should be vaccinated with the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. If they received the vaccine before their 16th birthday, they still need a booster dose.
In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds parents that colleges have been reporting outbreaks of serogroup B meningococcal disease in recent years. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine doesn’t protect against this disease. “CDC recommends the use of a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine for people identified to be at increased risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak, including outbreaks on college campuses.” Discuss this vaccine with your teen’s doctor.
HPV. If your high school graduate hasn’t already received the two-dose series against human papillomavirus virus, now is the perfect time to take care of that for both young men and women. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause various kinds of cancer for those who get the virus, including cervical, oral and throat cancers, and recent studies have found the vaccine to be tremendously effective in preventing the disease.
Studies also have shown that young people are not more likely to be sexually active as a result of getting the vaccine. They are simply protected against several kinds of cancer. And waiting is not a good option; the vaccine appears to result in the best immune response in preteens, but provides little benefit after age 26, according to the American Cancer Society.
Flu: Flu doesn’t mean the typical colds-and-flu type viruses that many of us catch; influenza is a potentially serious illness. At its best, it makes those who catch it miserable, feverish and bed-bound for at least several days. But this is also a disease that kills tens of thousands of Americans during the worst flu seasons, and was a major worldwide killer before vaccines were developed. The HHS lists the seasonal flu vaccine as one that college students should take.
Tdap. If your student received the recommended booster against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough that usually is given at around age 12, all is well. If not, make sure to get this done at the pre-college doctor visit.
Remember that many colleges and universities require their incoming students to have had most of the childhood vaccines—such as those against chicken pox, and measles, mumps and rubella—before they come to campus, unless there was a valid medical reason why they couldn’t or, in some states, proof of exemption. And an increasing number of colleges are getting serious about keeping students away from campus until they show proof of vaccination.
So make sure your student starts out the year prepared and ready for a healthy year of school.
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