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August 18th, 2011
05:08 PM ET

The vaccines your college freshman needs

Most parents know what vaccines their children need and at what age they should receive them, but they may not realize that their college-bound offspring need specific inoculations too.

Each state has different vaccination requirements for students, so if your child is going to an out-of-state school, he or she may be missing a few required vaccines. Most colleges require measles, mumps and rubella varicella, which is chickenpox or proof of having had the disease, hepatitis B, and a tetanus booster, which is  necessary only if it's been 10 years since your last shot.

All of us should make sure we're  properly vaccinated,  but it is especially important for college students. They live close together in dorms or in campus apartments and it's very common for them to share bathrooms, showers, drinks and even towels.

"When you're in close environments, classrooms, working out at the campus recreation centers, living in dorms, you're more likely to come into contact with other people who are ill. The vaccines that we give can help prevent an overall outbreak," says Dr. Maureen Olson, medical director of Student Health Services at Georgia Tech.

Because  freshmen can have a tough time adjusting to their new independent lives at college, Olson strongly urges these students to get all their vaccinations on time to reduce the risk of getting sick, an event that could add unnecessary stress.

In addition to required vaccines for college, other vaccines recommended in some cases for college-bound kids include shots to prevent pneumonia, human papillomavirus, hepatitis A, and meningitis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, college freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at an increased risk for contracting bacterial meningitis. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and an altered mental status, which may just sound like a bad hangover, but these actually are signs of a serious illness.

Both bacterial and viral meningitis are contagious and can easily spread to those around you, so it is smart to abstain from sharing drinks, kissing, and coming into direct contact with a lot of people. Since 2009, 34 states have passed laws requiring colleges to inform students of the risks and warning signs of this disease and 15 states have actually mandated that students be vaccinated.

Practicing healthy habits such as hand washing, cleaning contaminated surfaces with soap and water, and refraining from sharing drinks, utensils or lipstick also will reduce health risks.

However, if a student does become sick, it is equally important to prevent the spread of illness to classmates.

First, if you feel sick, don't go to class. Instead, call your student health center so you can see a doctor and start taking medication. If you have flu, for example, the doctor will probably recommend that you stay in your room until the fever has subsided, usually within 24 hours.

Even though you may be feeling better, it is imperative that you continue to cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and most important, get plenty of sleep, fluids, and nutritious food.

The CDC offers helpful tips on staying happy and healthy while away from home.


soundoff (610 Responses)
  1. Patty

    The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is actually not a chicken pox vaccine- it only protects against, well, measles, mumps and rubella. The chicken pox vaccine, which all students do need but is not always required like MMR, is the Varicela or varivax vaccine. It and MMR are two different things.

    August 19, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ali

      It was poorly written, rubella and varicella do not go together... Varicella is the chickenpox.

      August 19, 2011 at 10:04 | Report abuse |
    • Me

      MMRV is now offered to kids at least...you have the option of getting MMRV as one vaccine or as MMR and then the Varicella vaccine.

      August 19, 2011 at 11:10 | Report abuse |
  2. Poops McGee

    Sadly, there was a student at my college that died of Meningitis. he had all his vaccinations, he just died from a different strain of the disease than the one he was vaccinated for. My point being, you still have to be careful even if you have the vaccinations, and you definitely are NOT invincible!

    August 19, 2011 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ljalex

    Get a Measles Booster. My mom (a nurse) hounded me to get one before I went away to college. I kept putting it off and off. Finally I did, just before I left. A month into the school year my campus had a Measles outbreak. Thanks Mom, you were right, you are always right!

    August 19, 2011 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Josh

    What colleges need, is a "sick room" in the dorms, where a sick student can effectively isolate themselves from everyone else. Its nice in this article to mention that campus doctors will advise a sick student to stay in their doom room, instead of even risking the heath center, but that ignores that a sick student in a dorm still in contact with numerous other students.

    August 19, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mark

    Vaccines are not required for college. There are state exemptions.

    August 19, 2011 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim Recznik

      Too funny. I was posting this same thing when you did

      August 19, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
  6. Jim Recznik

    Not one state requires any vaccinations for college or high school or even to get into elementary. They have exemptions in every state. You have to file an exemption or get the vaccinations.

    August 19, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. NungaBIZ

    M.R.S.A is a real concern at any age where students share gyms/showers etc. There is no vaccine, its everywhere and years of antibiotic treatments for "ear infections" "sore throats" or "..there just sick, here's a Rx". have thrust CA-MRSA back into the limelight. Don't share ANYTHING with ANYONE in community locker rooms/showers/etc. use flip/flops and check out that "spider bite".

    August 19, 2011 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. VaxFree

    Learn all of the facts before vaccinating. Research the side effects, how to recognize them, where to get treated and how to report them. Read the package insert and the CDC warnings. Not everyone is able to be vaccinated with every vaccine. You know your child better than anyone else ever could. Your adult child has every right to forgo any and all vaccinations. Educate yourself.

    August 19, 2011 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mamamara

      Yup, your adult child has the right to get measles and miss weeks of school. Your adult child has the right to die of meningitis. I hear that's super fun!

      Vaccines are safe and effective. Please don't bring back vaccine-preventable illnesses.

      August 22, 2011 at 07:20 | Report abuse |
  9. Cynthia

    Any college student who forgoes getting vaccines is, for lack of nicer words, incredibly stupid.

    The college environment is full of diseases and just about everyone gets sick around the beginning of the year. Just being at college I've suffered through two different instances of strep - which boggled the doctors, but apparently just being in large classrooms with large amounts of people does it. WHO knows what other people have because you have thousands or tens of thousands of people moving around a campus during the day, coming back from what country, what hospital, etcetera.

    August 19, 2011 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Agreed, Cynthia. But get ready for a bunch of idiots accusing you of intolerance and ignorance.

      One can only hope these kids are lucky. They certainly aren't smart.

      August 19, 2011 at 19:46 | Report abuse |
    • Kritika

      i have done a considerable noaumt of reading about some of the vaccines on the market. A major drug company that pushes the gardisil vacciine for young girls (yet nothing for boys- who spread this disease!) has many pending lawsuits against them for damages and deaths caused by some of their other medicines given to adults.I let my guard down recently when i took my high school age child to the required school exam. I allowed my minor child to go into the appointment alone (against my better judgement-, but thinking my child needed a little independence, (i waited in the foyer) i should have followed up right then and their with the dr., but didn't as my daughter came out of the exam room saying all was fine. Ten mins down the road my child complains of a hurting arm. He/She was given a shot! (menactra) I had not been informed prior , I was not given any paperwork to sign, no information, nothing. I had no idea this was going to happen. The only information given to my child at the time of the injection was spoken the doctor said YOu know you are getting an injection today? my child: NO Dr: well it is Menactra and it is required.! No information was given to him/her to even take home to inform me.You can imagine how I must be feeling .i can't even put it into words!FURIOUS! I immediately called the office, talked to the office manager and the doctor about their practice of giving injections to a minor without information or consent! Since then I have made numerous phone calls and researched much information about menactra only to find that it is NOT a REQUIREMENT yet in my state and won't be till 2010. There is nothing official. It is the PROACTIVE doctors pushed by the PROACTIVE pharmaceutic companies that are pushing this injection and i have a feeling it has much to do with GREED.

      March 4, 2012 at 15:06 | Report abuse |
  10. rosehaynes

    The vaccine is typically administered in a single dose. http://bit.ly/nIoUBG

    August 21, 2011 at 05:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. MizK8

    I agree with VaxFree. Find out what you need to know about vaccines. Remember, the people that SELL vaccines are going to PUSH vaccines. Duh... I recently moved from a state that requires only the basic vaccines to one that makes your child get every vaccine known to the human race. To add to this dog and pony show, they don't let you know about what ones you need until the 11th hour & then it's panic time. As a parent, I am SO DONE with the schools humiliating my daughter, pulling her out of class & telling her she will be kicked out if she doesn't get her vaccines NOW. Just when I think I'm done, I get another notice. This time it was for her to take 2 college courses as dual credit for high school. It's a jr. college & she's not even attending full time! Come on! Enough is enough! Administrators MUST realize this is NOT a black & white subject & make things a bit more lenient. At least in this state. (Oh, did I mention all info, forms, waivers must be submitted through an outside medical company contracted by the college and there is a fee to gain access to it???)

    January 11, 2012 at 00:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.