Getting Ready for College? Consider These Vaccines

If you’re preparing for your freshman year of college (or sending your high school graduate off for the first time), you’re probably busy shopping for dorm room decor, signing up for classes, and stalking your assigned roommate on social media. But there’s a potentially life-saving part of college preparation that’s often forgotten – vaccines. Until college, most of us live with a small, close-knit group of people we call family. We encounter most of the germs that make us sick when we venture outside of our homes and come into contact with larger groups of unfamiliar people in schools, stores, and other public places.

In a college dorm, your risk of coming into contact with less common diseases goes up. You’re suddenly living with a large group of people, and you all venture out into public, crowded spaces every day for classes and social events, bringing the bugs you came into contact with back to the dorm. Because of the risks associated with living in campus housing, the CDC recommends that young adults receive certain vaccines before heading off to college.

HPV Vaccine

The human papilloma virus is extremely common and is usually spread through sexual activity. Some people carry HPV without serious effects, but in some women it causes cervical cancer and, more uncommonly, penile and anal cancer in men and throat and oral cancer in men and women. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls at 11 to 12 years old, but young adults who didn’t receive it or didn’t finish the series should consider being vaccinated before college.

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Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides, and it can cause meningitis, an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain or spinal cord. Meningococcal disease isn’t common, but even with treatment, it’s life-threatening. Out of every 100 people treated for it, 10 to 15 people die despite doctors’ best efforts. First-year college students living in dorms are at higher risk for the disease, and the CDC recommends that they receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. If you’re receiving the vaccine for the first time, two or three doses are necessary, depending on the brand. If you received the vaccine as a preteen, you’ll only need a booster before college.

TDAP Vaccine Booster

The TDAP vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is on the rise in the US. Whooping cough isn’t often life-threatening in otherwise healthy adults, but it can be extremely unpleasant and can result in life-threatening complications for adults with asthma or other underlying health issues. If you received a DTaP series as a child, you only need a booster, but if you’re receiving this vaccine for the first time or if your vaccination status is unknown, the CDC recommends a complete series before college.

Flu Vaccine

The CDC recommends a flu vaccine every year for everyone over 6 months old. Even if you don’t typically get a flu shot every year, you may want to consider it if you’re living in campus housing because you’re probably at higher risk for coming into contact with the flu. The flu can cause serious illness, even in adults, and the H1N1 strain, also known as swine flu, is still rare but has become more common in recent years and causes a higher proportion of severe illness in healthy young adults than other strains. It was responsible for the 1919 and 2009 flu pandemic, and there’s been concern in the last few years about rising numbers of cases and another possible pandemic.

Even though it’s less fun than stocking a mini fridge, consider preparing for the next four years by making sure you’ve received the vaccines recommended for first-time college students. Make an appointment with your doctor to go over your vaccine history and schedule any recommended series. If you’re planning on attending an overseas program or vacationing overseas, your doctor may recommend other vaccines, depending on what part of the world you’re planning to visit.