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Going to college? Take a shot. Of vaccine.

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If your teen is headed to college next year, chances are they will need a health form completed prior to starting classes. A big chunk of this form is proof of vaccination. Vaccinations are important to ensure optimal protection from diseases that can occur on college campuses. Read the below info on vaccines and then pass it along to your teen.

Here are some quick facts on college vaccinations:

  • Vaccines are safe and effective medications that protect your body from potentially fatal diseases. The decision to vaccinate, or decline a vaccine, should be taken seriously and with the guidance of someone who cares about your best health. Hopefully, this includes your parents and your personal doctor.

  • Discussing these vaccines with your parents is valued and encouraged. Ultimately, however, you can consent and receive vaccinations on your own after the age of 18.

  • University requirements vary. Look now at what vaccines are recommended since some young adult vaccines require multiple doses for optimal effectiveness.

  • Free and low-cost vaccines are available in most communities. If you are having difficulty with insurance coverage for vaccines at your health care provider’s office, shop around. Local vaccine clinics offer many of these vaccines or they may be covered by your student health coverage as you begin your first semester.

Recommended vaccines highlights:

MCV4 (“The meningitis shot”, Menveo, or Menactra.) This vaccine protects against a bacterial infection in your brain that is commonly spread by coughing, sneezing, and kissing. It is required for college freshmen in many major universities, especially those who are living on campus. Many of you have already received this vaccine at 11 years of age with a booster dose at age 16 years.If you have had the vaccine at these two ages, then you are likely up to date.

Hepatitis A. (‘Hep A”) This is a highly-contagious liver infection commonly acquired from bad fast food or contaminated water. Traditionally a vaccine for travelers, this shot is now required for grade-school entry in many states. So, there is a good chance you have already been vaccinated against this virus. If you have not received the two-dose series, now is the time to start. The time between the first and second dose needs to be at least six months. And, as always, wash your hands before you eat.

TDaP (The “tetanus shot,” or the “whooping cough shot”.) This vaccine is commonly given at age 11 years. Although the vaccine is typically recommended every 10 years, newer evidence suggests vaccine protection against the whooping cough component of the vaccine wanes sooner. Talk to your doc about getting boosted before heading to school, he or she may recommend it.

Hepatitis B (“Hep B”) Most of you needed this three-dose vaccine series for grade school. However, for those of you who have not received protection against this virus that causes liver cancer, now is the time. After you start the vaccine series, the second dose is given one month later with the third dose given three months later.

HPV (“cervical cancer shot”, or Gardasil) This is a vaccine series that protects against cervical cancer and other human papillomavirus-associated cancers. Although commonly discussed as a sexually transmitted virus, research has shown HPV transmission from other physical contact as well. Many of you have already gotten HPV protection as a two-dose series if you were less than 14 years old at the time. For those of you just starting the vaccine series, you will need three doses: the first dose, the second dose two months later, and the final dose four months after that. If you get started this summer, most student health centers will be able to complete the series while you are on campus this fall.

Meningitis B (“Men B”, “the other meningitis shot”) This vaccine is the newest to the teen line-up and protects from a specific form of bacterial meningitis. The protection from this vaccine is different than from the MCV4 vaccine that you may have already received. MenB is specifically dangerous form of meningitis that attacks young people who live in tight spaces, like dorms. Depending on the vaccine product that is used to vaccinate, you will need two or three doses of the vaccine. Be sure you clearly understand when your next dose or doses will be due, as they will likely be in the fall when you are on campus.

MMR All incoming freshman typically need to prove that they have received two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine during childhood. Interestingly, there have been recent outbreaks of mumps on college campuses. Although a third MMR doses is not currently recommended for college freshman, stay tuned to the health and wellness of your college campus. If you are seeing notice of mumps, follow your campus health department recommendations.

The vaccine choice is up to you. Educate yourself from evidence-based sources and choose wisely. Some credible and honest places online to find answers about vaccines include:

More questions? Ask your doc. Here’s to a happy, healthy college experience. Cheers.

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