Many parents understand the importance of keeping their children’s immunization records up to date during their younger years. However, many do not realize the additional immunizations that their children should receive as teenagers and young adults.
Dr. Kathy Wheeler, assistant professor for the University of Kentucky Doctor of Nursing Program and a practicing nurse practitioner at UK Healthcare in Georgetown, advises parents to stay on top of their children’s immunization records, especially as they prepare for college.
As chair of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners’ International Committee, Dr. Wheeler is a Shot@Life Champion, encouraging kids of all ages to be current on all immunizations.
“Immunizations are the cheapest, best way to prevent health problems,” Dr. Wheeler said. “It is the most significant thing that we can do to impact and improve health. So as a provider, one of the best things that we can do . . . is to review their immunizations and provide immunizations, or educate them about the need for immunizations.”
For teens heading off to college, the meningitis vaccine is extremely important. Most strands of meningitis are highly contagious, and students in close quarters on college campuses are high risk for contracting and spreading this dangerous disease.
Children should be immunized against meningitis between the ages of 8 and 2, and again around age 16, according to Dr. Wheeler. If teens have not been immunized by the time they graduate high school, they should speak with their providers about getting the vaccination before entering college.
Earlier this year, a case of meningitis was reported at the University of Kentucky. Although this proved to be an isolated incident, it could have easily become a much larger outbreak if it had not been caught and controlled right away.
This particular strand—meningitis B—is not included in the conjugate meningitis vaccine given to many children and young adults. Fortunately, in the past couple years, immunizations to protect against meningitis B have been approved by the FDA. Asking for the meningitis B immunization, in addition to the conjugate meningitis vaccine, can make a critical difference for students preparing for college.
“If we immunize a large part of the population then it will, of course, reduce the spread. There may be an isolated case or two, but if the ‘herd’ is immunized or as many people as possible are immunized then it ultimately reduces the chances the disease will occur,” Dr. Wheeler explained. “When most [students] are immunized, it generally means the whole population is going to be healthier.”
The meningitis vaccine is also recommended by the CDC among those living and working on college campuses to improve overall health and limit the spread of the disease nationwide.
Sending a child off to college can be a difficult transition, considering the amount of trust that parents must place on the university to keep students safe. Being up to date on vaccinations will not only protect your children and their classmates from dangerous—potentially fatal—diseases, but will also give you peace of mind as a parent as you see your son or daughter off on their next big journey.