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Are you going off to college or do you have a child who is? Chances are you’re gathering the essentials—backpack, laptop, and maybe even a sturdy pair of sneakers for sprinting across campus.
Here’s another important item for your list: Be sure routine vaccinations are up to date. Checking immunization records is an important step in preparing for crowded college life or studying abroad.
Many contagious diseases can easily spread in close quarters like classrooms and dorms, whether they’re newer illnesses like COVID-19 or older ailments like mumps. When you head back to college as protected as possible against preventable viruses, they have less opportunity to cause an outbreak.
That’s why it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about the immunizations that you might need to help set everyone up for a healthy year of higher education.
Discuss everything on your college’s list of requirements, and consider these eight vaccinations for your back-to-college checklist:
1. Chickenpox (Varicella)
The two-dose varicella vaccination for itchy, blister-inducing chickenpox is on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) standard schedule of childhood immunizations today. Just in case you missed a dose or you or your child haven’t been vaccinated, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about vaccination to keep contagious chickenpox at bay.
2. Coronavirus (COVID-19)
In general, the CDC has different COVID vaccination recommendations depending on your risk factors for the disease. It’s best to speak with your doctor to be sure you or your child are up to date on the recommended dose before hitting the books this year.
3. Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
College students up to age 26 might want to be sure they have the two to three recommended doses of the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine while thinking about back-to-school inoculations.
Without vaccination, HPV infections can cause genital lesions and certain types of cancers like cervical or oropharyngeal (a cancer of the head and neck) in some people. In fact, the CDC reports HPV is behind about 37,000 cancer cases in the U.S. each year.
Visit with your healthcare provider about HPV vaccination status. It may not be appropriate for those older than 27 who have already been exposed to the virus.
Related reading: 5 Myths About HPV Screenings and Vaccines.
4. Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR)
Like chickenpox, MMR is included in the standard schedule of childhood immunizations. But there’s potential for those who haven’t received the recommended one to two doses to catch these serious infections.
A side note for people who may become pregnant: MMR vaccination before pregnancy helps avoid rubella, which can affect a baby’s neurodevelopment or cause birth defects. Not only can these illnesses be avoided today with vaccination, but your future family might be a step ahead, too.
5. Meningococcal Serogroup B (MenB)—Meningitis
If your college year will include living in a group setting like a dormitory, your provider might recommend doses of MenB vaccine to protect against meningitis, a severe and potentially life-threatening brain and spinal cord infection.
Meningococcal disease has been known to break out on college campuses because it spreads in crowded spaces. That’s why it might be a good idea to add this vaccine to the list when talking with your provider.
6. Polio (IPV)
The standard childhood IPV vaccine has been protecting people against the paralyzing effects of polio for decades, but the disease still exists. An unvaccinated person in New York fell ill with polio in 2022. So, check in with your provider about this vaccination as you prepare for back-to-school–-especially if you or your student have never received the poliovirus vaccine.
Related reading: NY Polio Case a Grim Reminder of Vaccine Importance.
7. Seasonal Flu (Influenza)
Flu vaccinations (“flu shots”) come around every fall to help fight against common strains that might crop up when flu season starts. Be sure to keep in touch with your healthcare provider to know when this year’s vaccine will be available. If college starts before then, most campus-based health clinics and many drug store chains offer this routine vaccination, too.
8. Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Tdap)
Tdap is one standard childhood vaccine to protect against three diseases: muscle-stiffening lockjaw (tetanus), breath-constricting diphtheria, and relentless whooping cough (pertussis).
Pertussis and diphtheria spread through droplets from actions like coughing or sneezing, but tetanus can enter the body through a skin injury like getting scratched by rusty metal.
Before the busy school year starts, it’s smart to double check with your clinician to verify proper vaccination and booster status (a tetanus and diphtheria booster may be recommended every 10 years).
Vaccinations for study abroad.
If study overseas is a possibility this year, talk with your healthcare provider about travel vaccines or boosters appropriate for the destination. The right vaccinations will help protect against dangerous diseases that are less common in the U.S. including:
- Yellow fever
- Hepatitis A
Some viruses—such as typhoid or hepatitis A—can sneak into food overseas, adding another reason why travel vaccination is so important.
Your doctor can help determine the travel vaccines that might be best depending upon the country. Chances are your school’s study abroad program will have guidance, too.
Give learning a healthy shot this year.
The learning experiences that await at college are going to last a lifetime. Don’t let a vaccine-preventable disease be part of those lessons learned.
Make your health, and the health of those around you, a priority by scheduling a visit with your healthcare provider to discuss vaccinations. Remember to wash your hands often, stay home when you’re sick, and don’t hesitate to call a doctor when you need help.