Most parents know the vaccines their children need in early childhood and early adolescence, but many are unaware their college-age children need immunizations, too. Before you send your kids off to campus, make sure you have made an appointment with their doctor to get the vaccines that will keep them safe in this new stage of life.

Meningococcal Vaccines

While meningitis is rare, meningococcal vaccines may prove to be a lifesaver for your teen. The bacterial illness is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit), especially where people live in close quarters like college dormitories. This makes college students—and all teens and young adults ages 16 through 23 years old—one of the groups most at risk for the dangerous, fast-acting, and potentially deadly disease.

According to the United States Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), approximately 600-1000 people in the United States get meningococcal disease each year. Between 10-15 percent of the people who develop the disease will die, and 11-19 percent of the survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limbs, deafness, nervous system problems or brain damage.

The CDC recommends all preteens and teens should get vaccinated against meningitis. At 11-12 years old, kids should receive one dose of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine that helps protect against four types (serogroups) of the bacteria: A, C, W and Y. Teens should then again get a booster dose when they are 16 years old to continue having protection during the higher-risk years. If your child is ready to head off to college and hasn’t yet been vaccinated, experts recommend they get a dose as soon as possible to give the vaccine at least a month to become effective.

You may also choose to have your child vaccinated with the relatively new serogroup B meningococcal vaccine that protects against the particularly deadly meningitis B form of the disease.

Many colleges and universities now require meningococcal conjugate vaccine, and some even ask for proof of the meningitis B vaccine. Information on state requirements for public and private institutions is available through the Immunization Action Coalition, and should be also provided by your child’s school. The National Meningitis Association also offers a state by state map of requirements.

In Washington State, the law requires public and private degree-granting colleges to provide information on meningococcal disease to each enrolled first-time student if the college offers on-campus or group housing, and community and technical colleges to do so for only students who are offered housing. There is no vaccination requirement.

HPV Vaccine

The sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus, or HPV, is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives, even if they don’t know it. HPV can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women and penile cancer in men, as well as anal cancer, throat cancer and genital

warts in both sexes.

The HPV vaccine is CDC recommended for preteen boys and girls at ages 11-12 so they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus. That said, only 60 percent of girls and 41.7 percent of boys aged 13-17 years have received 1 or more doses of the vaccine. If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to their doctor as soon as possible–it may just be the protection they need from life-threatening cancers later in life.

Flu Vaccine

About 1 in 4 college students get the flu every year, causing illness, academic disruptions and in some cases, fatal complications. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), part of the problem is college-aged kids don’t see their health as vulnerable. Thus, it’s a great idea for parents to send their kids off to school already protected. Flu shots are easily and conveniently available from most doctors and pharmacies.

For a complete list of recommended vaccines and immunization schedules, visit the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) website.  Information on immunization requirements and laws for Washington State college students are available on the Washington State Department of Health website. Some specific programs in health sciences may have additional requirements. You may also want to consult a pharmacist and your child’s doctor for specific recommendations, especially if your child has unique health challenges.

Immunizations have had an enormous impact on improving our health, and they’re one of the best ways parents can protect their children. Ask a pharmacist or medical care provider today about immunizing your child for a safe and healthy experience in college and beyond.


By: Stephanie Decker, PharmD, Clinical Pharmacist for Kelley-Ross Pharmacy Group and Clinical Affiliate Faculty Member of the University of Washington School of Pharmacy