Preparing a kid for college is akin to preparing for their arrival at birth. There are so many details to think about, choices to consider and preparations to be made that it’s easy to become completely overwhelmed. As parents, we want nothing more than to ensure that our children are well prepared – both physically and emotionally – for all the challenges they are about to face.
While it’s natural to focus on the dorm items your child might need, parents should also help prepare their teen for the responsibilities they will have in managing their own health. Once they move into that dorm, you will no longer be there to fill their prescriptions, fetch their medicine, make their doctor’s appointments, or otherwise ensure they are getting the medical attention they need. It will be up to them to maintain a healthy diet, get adequate rest, and protect themselves from the dangers of alcohol, drugs and unwanted or unsafe sex. They will need to know when to seek professional medical attention if they should get sick, injured or find themselves struggling with mental or physical needs.
Before your child heads off to college, here are five things you can do to help them stay healthy:
1.) Get your child a physical exam.
When kids are young, parents are accustomed to bringing them in for well-visits. However, it’s not uncommon for kids to miss yearly check-ups in lieu of sports physicals and sick visits. Before your child heads to campus, make sure to schedule a comprehensive health exam. The conversation your child has with the doctor should help prepare them to manage their current health conditions while away at school (such as any known allergies, specialist appointments and regular medications) while also opening the discussion to the dangers of stress, poor diet, inadequate sleep, binge drinking, drug experimentation and unsafe sex. If their provider fails to cover these issues completely, it’s important that parents weigh in on these concerns as well. You can let your child know that while you trust them to make responsible decisions, you are always available for advice and support.
2.) Get all the recommended vaccines, not just those required by the school.
For many students, college can be a time of significant stress. Students don’t always eat a healthy diet or get the proper rest. They live in close quarters and have a tendency to share cups and eating utensils. At some point your child may travel, or engage with fellow students and faculty members who have traveled, to areas where diseases are more prevalent. And studies show that college students are more likely to engage in risky behavior. All these conditions make students more susceptible to illness. It is also what contributes to the chances of outbreaks occurring on college campuses.
Making sure your child is up-to-date on all the recommended vaccines, not just those required by the school, can help them avoid dangerous and sometimes even deadly illnesses. While there are several immunizations that are recommended for college-age students, each state and college may have different admission requirements.
To best protect your college-bound student from preventable diseases, parents should consider the following vaccines for students before they arrive on campus: Read more…
This guest post was written by Neal Raisman, PhD, to highlight the threat of meningococcal disease in the U.S. as part of Vaccinate Your Family’s “State of the ImmUnion” campaign.
My son Isaac was a very healthy 26-year-old who worked out every day and took great pride in how and what he ate. On September 24, 2005 he called home from college to tell his mother he had a terrible headache and felt lousy. Since he complained of chills and a fever, my wife and I thought he was suffering with the flu and told him to get some sleep and drink lots of fluids. He called again to report that the headache was even worse and he felt even sicker. Again, his mother re-assured him that it was probably the flu.
Little did we know at that time, but Isaac did not have the flu.
What he had was serogroup type B meningitis and it was quickly eating at his body and brain.
He died soon after that call with his mother. It wasn’t until later that night that I was able to get into his apartment where I found his body. This is the last photo that was ever taken of our son.
Isaac had received a meningitis vaccine before college, but back in 2005, the only meningococcal vaccine available was one that covered the serogroup strains of A, C, W and Y. At that time there was no vaccine to prevent the B strain that killed our son.
But there is now.
I’m sharing our story today so that every mother and father will know that serogroup B meningococcal disease kills and maims without mercy.
Not every person infected will die like Isaac. Sometimes victims will live in a brain-dead coma. Some will lose limbs. Now that I know how quick and devastating this disease is, I must caution parents to do everything they can to protect their children before it is too late.
In 2014, nine years after we lost Isaac, the FDA approved the first vaccine to prevent the serogroup B strain of meningococcal disease.
In order to offer the most complete protection from all the preventable strains of meningococcal disease, this MenB vaccine needs to be administered in addition to the MenACWY vaccine that is already on the recommended immunization schedule.
While the current burden of disease appears to be low, there have been outbreaks of serogroup B meningococcal disease at U.S. colleges that have resulted in loss of limbs and loss of life. Following FDA approval, it is customary for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to evaluate the data and determine whether the vaccine should be added to the recommended schedule. With FDA approval, the safety of the vaccine was not in question, however the ACIP felt it was necessary to continue to review data pertaining to vaccine effectiveness, duration of effectiveness and impact of the vaccine on carriage and herd immunity. Therefore, the initial ACIP decision was to make a routine recommendation for individuals at highest risk of disease and in outbreak situations, while recommending that those in the 16-23 year age range “may be vaccinated to provide short term protection against the strain”. This is what is known as a “permissive” or “Category B” recommendation.
In the beginning, there was speculation that due to this “Category B” recommendation, that not all insurance companies would cover the cost of the vaccine. However, as a condition of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all health plans must start covering any recommended vaccine (even Category B) with no out-of-pocket costs when provided by an in-network healthcare provider. Health plans have until one year after the effective date of the recommendation to comply, so it is possible that some patients won’t be covered until their plan renewal, which may occur more than a year after the October 2015 recommendation was made. However, public health partners nationwide continue to report that providers (including Vaccine For Children providers) are not universally stocking the vaccine, nor making strong recommendations for its use. In addition, although the majority of health plans are covering the cost, some may not be following ACA guidelines, which can be quite ambiguous. Some may be covering the cost of the vaccine for one category of recipients (i.e. high risk) but not those who “may” be vaccinated.
As a parent of a child who died from meningococcal disease, I still worry that this ambiguous recommendation is leaving our children unprotected.
A vaccine is now available to prevent the B strain that my son died of. Yet this limited recommendation means that many doctors won’t be discussing the availability of the vaccine, and many parents won’t know that the vaccine is available. Worse yet, many parents may wrongfully believe their child is fully protected from all the preventable meningococcal strains when their child receives the MenACWY, which is not accurate.
So now we are left wondering, what is the benefit of the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine if parents aren’t aware that it is available or believe they can’t afford it? How many lives will be lost due to the current policy? And what will it cost to stop letting young men and women be horribly maimed or die?
After losing her son Evan to meningococcal disease, Lynn Bozof’s life became a mission to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies. She has since co-founded the National Meningitis Association (NMA), to help educate people about the dangers of meningococcal disease. In this special State of the ImmUnion post, Lynn addresses some of the most common questions parents have asked her about meningococcal disease and the ways it can be prevented.
How would you describe the current “State of the ImmUnion” for meningococcal disease? How many cases of meningococcal disease are there in a typical year? Are enough people protected?
In the 14 years since NMA was founded, vaccination rates have climbed steadily while disease incidence has declined. Although we are pleased with this progress, there is much more work to be done to strengthen the State of the ImmUnion.
Annually, there are approximately 800-1200 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States. As an organization comprised of survivors and families who have lost children to this devastating disease, we at NMA know that one case is too many.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) routinely recommends meningococcal vaccines beginning at age 11-12, one in five U.S. teens are not vaccinated as recommended and one-third of those who get the first dose don’t go on to get their booster dose. This leaves adolescents unprotected as they enter some of their most vulnerable years.
What can parents do to protect their families from meningococcal disease?
As a parent who lost my college-age son, Evan, to meningococcal disease, I urge all parents to make sure their child is vaccinated. Vaccination offers the best protection against this disease, and parents should understand that to be fully vaccinated against meningococcal disease, your child should receive two kinds of meningococcal vaccines.
There are five major serogroups of meningococcal disease: A, C, W, Y and B.
MenACWY Vaccine: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12, with a booster at age 16.
MenB Vaccine: After the FDA approved this vaccine in 2014, the CDC made a permissive recommendation for children ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years.
Because it behaves somewhat differently, the B serogroup was not included in the ACWY vaccine, and it took longer for scientists to design an effective vaccine.
Today, nearly half (43 percent) of all meningococcal disease cases among U.S. teens and young adults are caused by serogroup B. Since MenB is a relatively new vaccine, and not routinely recommended, many parents and healthcare professionals remain unaware of this vaccine. This is particularly concerning since it’s the most common cause of meningococcal disease in adolescents and the cause of several outbreaks on college campuses in recent years. This is why we urge parents to have a conversation with your child’s doctor to ensure your child is fully vaccinated.
My doctor never mentioned a separate vaccine for serogroup B? Why is that?
While the MenACWY vaccine has been routinely recommended since 2005, the MenB vaccine received FDA approval in 2014. That is not to say this is a “new” vaccine. The MenB vaccine has been used in other countries for many years already, and safety and efficacy data from these countries has been extensively reviewed by the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP). After FDA approval in the U.S., the Committee gave this vaccine a permissive or “category B” recommendation. Unlike a routine recommendation, this recommendation puts more responsibility on parents to request the vaccine, which is why it is important to be proactive and ask your doctor about it.
Are there certain people who should be particularly concerned about meningococcal disease? How easily does it spread?
Vaccines are recommended for adolescents and young adults because they are at higher risk of contracting meningococcal disease.
The following factors increase the risk of disease: being an adolescent or young adult, spending time in large crowds like parties or dorms, and participating in behaviors like kissing or sharing drinks. But, anyone at any age can contract it.
Other people who are at higher risk for the disease include:
- Infants under 1 year of age
- People living in crowded settings like college dorms or military barracks
- People living with HIV
- Those with persistent complement component deficiency or anatomic or functional asplenia
- People traveling to certain areas outside the U.S. such as the meningitis belt in Africa
- Laboratory personnel who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
- Those who might have been exposed to meningococcal disease during an outbreak
Meningococcal disease is contagious. It is spread through the exchange of respiratory secretions during close contact such as kissing, sharing drinks or coughing on someone. Although meningococcal bacteria are very dangerous, they cannot live outside the body for very long. This means the infection is not as easily spread as a cold virus. About one in ten people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat without showing any signs or symptoms of the disease. These people can unknowingly transmit the bacteria to others.
Of those who contract the disease, 1 in 10 will die and 2 in 10 will suffer from long term complications, including deafness, brain damage, or limb amputations.
My child was required to get a meningitis vaccine before middle school. Is she still protected or does she need a booster? If so, when should she get one?
This is a guest post, written by Alicia Stillman, Director of the Emily Stillman Foundation. One of the missions of the Foundation is to raise awareness of meningococcal disease and the various vaccines that are now available to prevent it.
February 2, 2013 my life changed forever. I was told my beautiful and healthy nineteen year old daughter no longer had any brain activity, and that she would die. Those words will forever haunt me. There is no preparation, no training, and no practice for what was to come. The loss of a child is like none other. It is the wrong order. When you lose a child, a piece of you dies as well.
On January 31, 2013 my middle daughter Emily called home from college, and mentioned she had a headache. I thought she was possibly coming down with the flu. She thought it may be from lack of sleep. We decided she would take Motrin and go to bed. Several hours later she woke up to increased pain and was taken to the hospital where she was treated for a migraine. It was not until hours later that the medical professionals realized they may be looking at meningococcal disease, and performed a lumbar puncture to confirm.
The entire two hour drive to the hospital I begged the medical professionals to double check the results. Since I knew my daughter had been vaccinated against meningitis, I did not believe it was possible for her to have that disease. I feared that something else would go untreated, and I wanted them to heal her.
When I arrived at the hospital, Emily was already unconscious as they prepared her for a craniotomy to relieve the swelling in her brain. When the nurse took me to see her, she asked if I wanted them to call clergy. That was the first time I actually realized the seriousness of this disease. I did not understand how this could be happening. My daughter only had a headache. She was vaccinated.
Within 30 hours from the onset of her headache, my daughter was brain dead. Her life was over. We decided Emily would want to be an organ donor. She was able to save five lives with six organs, and countless others with her bones and tissue. She was a hero.
As I said goodbye to my sweet daughter in that hospital bed, I made her a promise. Read more…
Since outbreaks of meningococcal serogroup B began occurring on various college campuses late last year, resulting in several student deaths, there has been a lot of interest in a new meningococcal serogroup B vaccine. One of the biggest challenges that have come along with the introduction of this new vaccine is that parents are confused about the offering of two different meningococcal vaccines that prevent various strains of meningococcal disease.
To complicate matters, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued a “permissive recommendation” for the new serogroup B vaccine, which many suggest will make doctors less likely to recommend the vaccine to all their patients, but will allow parents to request the vaccine for their child.
Fortunately, Dr. William Schaffner wrote an excellent article for the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) that we have reblogged below that provides a thorough explanation of meningococcal disease, the different meningococcal vaccines that are available to patients, and the facts parents need to know to make an educated immunization plan for their child.
Special thanks to William Schaffner, MD, NFID Medical Director and Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, for this guest blog post on the recently published Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meningococcal serogroup B immunization recommendation.
Parents usually rely on their child’s pediatrician to keep them up-to-date on vaccines. But the updated meningococcal vaccine recommendation recently issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is different. The new recommendation paves the way for adolescents and young adults to get vaccinated against a rare, but deadly infection called serogroup B meningococcal disease–but it puts more responsibility on parents to seek and request the vaccine.
Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes meningitis (brain swelling) or sepsis (blood infection). Serogroup B is just one of several types of bacteria that cause the disease. Four other serogroups (A, C, W, and Y) are…
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The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend MenB vaccine earlier today in order to protect young adults from the deadly “b” strain of meningitis. The full recommendation wording is as follows,
“A serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine series may be administered to adolescents and young adults 16 through 23 years of age to provide short term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease. The preferred age for MenB vaccination is 16 through 18 years of age.”
Several hours of deliberation by the Committee followed by heartbreaking testimony from the National Meningitis Association, Meningitis Angels and several families devastated by the serogroup B strain of meningitis preceded the vote.
Members of the Committee felt that the data available currently regarding the short length of duration of protection with the vaccine, combined with the high cost burden of vaccinating the entire public for a disease that has a relatively low incidence rate, were some of the rationales for including the wording “may be vaccinated” in the recommendation. This wording designates the recommendation as a “Category B or permissive recommendation”
Many who testified feared that a Category B recommendation could cause confusion among providers and the public and would result in a lack of access if insurers failed to cover the costs of the vaccine. The Committee was assured by the CDC that a Category B recommendation will result in the vaccine being covered by the Vaccines For Children Program and the Affordable Care Act.
Meningitis survivor Andy Marso pleaded with the Committee to consider fully recommending the vaccine in order to avoid confusion among providers and inequitable access for the public. Andy contracted meningitis as a college student and racked up $2 million dollars in hospital bills within just the first year. “That would buy a lot of vaccines,” he stated.
“I need your help” he continued, “I want to make sure others don’t get meningitis because every time I hear of another person who contracts meningitis it strikes me in the chest.” “I wonder what if I had done more? What if I had talked to more people? Maybe my warnings could have reached that person. Maybe that person would have gotten vaccinated, or not shared that bacteria-ridden cup, or gotten to the hospital on time…I have a terrible responsibility now…and you can help free me by fully recommending the vaccine.”
As noted in a recent Shot of Prevention post, “the ACIP also recommends that adolescents receive the quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) at ages 11-12, with a booster dose at age 16, to protect against the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal bacteria. Statistics show that nearly 80% of teens have received at least one dose of this vaccine, which is fairly remarkable considering the fact that the vaccine is recommended, but is not mandated for school or college in most states. However, it’s important that parents realize that the MCV4 vaccine does not prevent serogroup B meningococcal disease, which currently accounts for 1/3 of all U.S. cases of meningococcal disease and has been spreading through college campuses in recent years.”
One thing is certain, moving forward there will be a herculean task of educating the public and providers about the new recommendation. Stay tuned for a more thorough post on the meeting in the coming days.
Currently, the ACIP recommends that adolescents receive the quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) at ages 11-12, with a booster dose at age 16, to protect against the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal bacteria. Statistics show that nearly 80% of teens have received at least one dose of this vaccine, which is fairly remarkable considering the fact that the vaccine is recommended, but is not mandated for school or college in most states. However, it’s important that parents realize that the MCV4 vaccine does not prevent serogroup B meningococcal disease, which currently accounts for 1/3 of all U.S. cases of meningococcal disease and has been spreading through college campuses in recent years.
Fortunately, two new vaccines to protect against meningococcal serogroup B were recently approved by the FDA. The Trumenba vaccine is developed by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and requires three doses, and the two-dose Bexsero vaccine was developed by Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics (GSK acquired Novartis Vaccines in March 2015, excluding the Novartis influenza division). After these vaccines received FDA approval in late 2014, the ACIP recommended a meningococcal serogroup B vaccine (MenB) for certain high-risk groups at their next meeting in February 2015.
However, many people questioned why the recommendation wasn’t for a broader population. If the ACIP recommends that all adolescents protect themselves with the MCV4 vaccine, why wouldn’t they also be suggesting parents protect their children from the dangers of serogroup B as well? Read more…