Make Sure Your College Student Has These Shots Before Returning To Campus
Jan 04, 2017

iStock_000078067721_Double.jpgTeens and young adults have a tendency to believe they’re completely invincible.  But their lifestyle – which often involves high levels of stress, inadequate amounts of sleep and close living quarters – can put them at an increased risk of certain infections such as flu, mumps, meningitis and HPV.  As students return to class after winter break, they’re  reunited with classmates, roommates, and professors who may have been exposed to infectious diseases during their travels to other states or other countries.

While it’s impossible to prevent every cough and sniffle, parents can help protect their kids by ensuring they’re up-to-date on all their recommended vaccines.

So what are all the vaccines that are recommended for teens and young adults?  

And wouldn’t they be required for school anyway?

Vaccine requirements vary by state and don’t necessarily include all the vaccines that the CDC recommends. Therefore, as winter break come to an end, parents should review their students’ immunization records and arrange for them to get any missing shots before they return to class.

Here are a few of the diseases that students should be protected against.


Influenza is a dangerous viral infection that causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year in the U.S., even among health people of all ages.  For the best protection, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine.


Unfortunately, while flu vaccination rates are typically the highest among children, rates tend to drop among teens and young adults. If your college student hasn’t already received their annual flu vaccine it’s not too late.  Bring them to their healthcare provider or local pharmacy to get them protected before they return to campus. Although it can take up to two weeks to develop antibodies post-vaccination, flu season often extends well into Spring, so students will benefit from protection for many months to come.


Mumps may not be considered “common” in the U.S. thanks to a 99% decrease in mumps cases once mumps vaccination began in 1967, but there have been several mumps outbreaks on college campuses in the past year, and approximately 4,258 cases across 46 states and DC in 2016.


This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that crowded environments, such a large classes and dormitory living can all contribute to the likelihood of outbreaks.  Also, since mumps is spread primarily through saliva, coughing and sneezing, teen behaviors such as kissing or sharing plates, utensils, cups, lipstick or cigarettes, are all factors that can increase the likelihood of transmission.

Fortunately, the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) is very effective.  Two doses of the vaccine are approximately 88% effective at protecting against mumps, whereas one dose is about 78% effective. While it’s true that vaccinated individuals can still fall ill with mumps and immunity from vaccination can begin to wane over time, individuals who are either unvaccinated individuals or under-vaccinated (having only received one dose of MMR as opposed to two), are more likely to get mumps.  To help protect your child from mumps, be sure they’ve had two doses of MMR vaccine.  In the case of an active outbreak on their campus, you can even inquire about the possibility of receiving a third dose.

 Meningococcal Disease

In the past few years, there have been quite a few cases of meningococcal disease on college campuses and several outbreaks of meningococcal serogroup B.  This isn’t surprising considering that one out of ten people have the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms of disease. Fortunately, these bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been. Instead, the bacteria can be spread from person to person by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions that often occur during close contact, coughing, kissing, or living in close quarters.


Meningococcal disease is devastating and strikes quickly. One in ten victims who develop meningococcal disease will die from it, sometimes within 24 hours.  Those lucky enough to survive will often suffer significant physical and mental disabilities, ranging from deafness, nervous system problems, brain damage, or loss of limbs.

While many schools recommend the more common meningococcal conjugate vaccine) (also known as MenACWY), this vaccine only protects against four of the five preventable serogroups of meningococcal disease.  To receive full protection, students entering college should also consider the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine known as MenB.  This is especially important considering that serogroup B accounts for approximately half of all meningococcal cases in the U.S. among those age 17-22.

Although the MenB vaccine has been licensed for over a year, many health care providers have not been mentioning it to their patients, so most parents don’t realize the vaccine exists.  To learn more about the two different meningococcal vaccines that are currently available, parents should talk to their child’s healthcare provider and visit the  Vaccinate Your Family website.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Nearly all sexually active individuals will contract the human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point in their lives.  Most people will not even know they’re infected because the virus typically occurs without any symptoms.  In some cases, symptoms will only develop years after first being infected, which means people are often actively spreading the infection to others without ever knowing it.


Misunderstandings about HPV transmission have a tendency to mislead parents about the need for their child to be vaccinated.  Transmission is not just limited to vaginal or anal sex.  HPV can also be transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. This is why abstinence isn’t necessarily effective in preventing HPV infection.  Having one lifetime sex partner doesn’t eliminate the risk either, as a partner could have been infected by previously sexual encounters, even if those encounters didn’t involve vaginal sex.  Also, while condoms may lower the risk of infection, they don’t provide reliable protection since HPV can infect areas not covered by the condom.

Fortunately, HPV infections will often clear on their own, though it may take a few years and that person may continue to pass along the infection during that time.  However, the real danger is in the 10% of cases which will lead to cancer years, or even decades, after initial exposure.  Receiving the complete vaccination series prior to sexual debut will help prevent infection later in life and eliminate the potential for precancerous cells to form.  This is one of the reasons why HPV vaccination is routinely recommended at 11-12 years of age. Studies have also shown that the HPV vaccine produces a greater immune response with a higher antibody count to fight infection when given at a younger age.  

Teens and young adults who did not get the HPV vaccine when they were younger may be able to still get it and benefit from the protection for the rest of their lives.  Young women can get HPV vaccine through age 26, and young men can get vaccinated through age 21.

It may be impossible to ensure our kids are making healthy choices while away at college.  However, by educating them about the dangers of disease and the ways vaccines can help prevent certain diseases, we’re helping to ensure they have a healthy future and teaching them that about the value of vaccination throughout the lifespan.  

For more information on vaccines for all ages, visit the Vaccinate Your Family website and encourage others to do the same.  

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