As you graduate high school or start work or college, getting protected against vaccine-preventable diseases probably isn’t very high on your to-do list.
Once you realize that these diseases, like measles, flu, and meningococcal meningitis, etc., might in the best case scenario just keep you out of school for a few weeks, but can also tragically be deadly, you will hopefully get caught up on all of your vaccines.
Are you Up-To-Date on your Vaccines?
You probably shouldn’t just assume that you have already had all of your immunizations just because you were attending public or private high school. Even if your parents had been following the standard immunization schedule, state vaccine laws do vary, so you may have missed some.
To be sure you have had all of your recommended vaccines, talk to your doctor and compare your immunization record against the latest immunization schedule from the CDC. You can likely get a copy of your shot record from:
- your parents
- your pediatrician or family doctor
- a state immunization registry
- your high school
Since most colleges and many employers will require your immunization record, it’s a good idea to make sure it is up-to-date well before you graduate high school.
Unfortunately, if you can’t find your immunization records, you will either have to have blood tests to verify that you are immune or have some vaccine doses repeated.
Vaccines for High School Catch-up
Are you missing any vaccines?
Although most high school students have had their DTaP, MMR, hepatitis B, and polio vaccines, etc., they may have missed some others that are not mandated by law in their state.
These vaccines include those that protect us against:
- hepatitis A – a two dose series that is traditionally given to toddlers
- chicken pox – some states don’t mandate a recommended second dose of Varivax
- meningococcal disease – traditionally given as a two dose series at age 11-12 years, with a booster at age 16-18 years, but fewer than half of states even mandate the first dose
- HPV – only two states, Virginia and Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia, have a mandate for the human papilloma vaccine
Even the Tdap vaccine, which protects us against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis isn’t required for kids to attend school in Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, and South Dakota.
Vaccines for College and Young Adults
If you have been seeing your pediatrician or family doctor for a yearly checkup and have been getting vaccinated according to the recommended CDC immunization schedule, there is a good chance that you only need a yearly flu vaccine and one other vaccine before heading off to college – a meningococcal booster.
Although not a common infection, the results of getting meningococcal disease are often devastating. Up to 15% of cases are life-threatening and of those that survive, up to 19% have serious long-term effects, including loss of arms, legs, fingers, or toes, neurological disability, and deafness, etc.
According to the latest recommendations, a booster dose of meningococcal vaccine, either Menactra or Menveo, is “routinely recommended” for all teens, but is especially important for “first-year college students living in residence halls.” These vaccines protect against Neisseria meningiditis serogroups A, C, W, and Y, which cause over 70% of cases in older children.
New meningococcal vaccines against the serogroup responsible for the remainder of cases, Bexsero and Trumenba, are also now available. First used on an investigational basis during outbreaks at Princeton and University of California, Santa Barbara, they are recommended for anyone between the ages of 10 and 25 years who is at increased risk for meningococcal disease because of underlying medical conditions. Although not yet universally recommended, teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 23 years may also get either Bexsero or Trumenba if they want to be protected against serogroup B meningococcal disease.
Vaccines for Special Situations
Even if you are truly up-to-date on your vaccines and are ready for college, you still might be missing a few vaccines in certain special situations.
Do you have any chronic medical problems, like diabetes, sickle cell disease, or immune system problems? If so, then you may need one or more pneumococcal vaccines if you haven’t had them already, including Prevnar 13 and the Pneumovax 23 vaccine.
Are you going to be traveling out of the country as part of your post-graduation plans? Travel vaccines, including those that protect against measles, typhoid, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and meningococcal disease, might be recommended depending on where you are going.
Vincent Iannelli, MD is a board certified pediatrician and the pediatrics guide for About.com. He is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and has a special interest in educating parents about vaccines.