This year, as parents prepared to send their kids off to college, there may be a few things that went through your mind: Will they do their laundry? Will they ever call me? Will they get their vaccines?
Ok, so that last one may not have been on your list. But as a parent, it certainly should be. As the Director of Health Services at Bellarmine University in Louisville, I know first hand how important it is for students to continue to stay up to date on their vaccinations, even into their college years.
Here’s why – 16 – 21 year olds account for the nearly 1,000 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States each year. A terrible death at Georgetown University just this week compounds the outbreaks we saw last year at Princeton University and University of California, Santa Barbara.
Although not a common disease, it is usually severe with blood stream infection (sepsis) and inflammation of the spinal cord and covering of the brain (meningitis). In fact, death occurs in 10-15% of cases and another 10-20% are left with severe disabilities, such as hearing loss, mental disability, loss of limb and/or seizures.
The bacteria spreads by coughing, sneezing, and kissing. If a student lives in a communal area, such as a dormitory, they may be exposed to this bacteria more easily as they share living space with potentially hundreds of other students.
Fortunately there are two non-live vaccines that can prevent the majority of cases, and are recommended for all children starting at age 11. Both are safe and proven to be over 90% effective.
Students at Princeton and the University of California received an emergency vaccine that is still in development, made available to halt the outbreak. As new vaccines become available, it is critical that healthcare providers and the public have access to them as soon as possible.
Students who are vaccinated at age 11 should receive a booster dose at age 16. Those who are vaccinated between 13-15 should be boosted between 16-18 years of age. And that’s exactly why, as parents, you should think about getting your child immunized, if they haven’t already, as we dive into this new school year.
Meningococcal isn’t the only disease on the rise. There have also been reported cases of Pertussis, or whooping cough, as well. Pertussis is also highly contagious and symptoms include violent, uncontrollable coughing. Although uncomfortable, Pertussis is not life threatening in adults. However, it can be life threatening if contracted by an infant or toddler.In fact, infant deaths due to Pertussis have been on the rise, and the Pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is now recommended for adults, including college students.
Adults ages 19 and older who did not receive a Tdap vaccine as a preteen or teen, should get one dose of Tdap before starting college. It is also recommended that adults get the Tdap vaccine at least two weeks prior to contact with an infant or toddler.
The bottom line is that all students should receive these vaccines in order to properly protect themselves against very serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. As a parent, it is easy to focus on the everyday worries, wondering if your student will survive college life on their own.
However, it is essential to keep in mind the importance of vaccines when it comes to your child’s health. You might not be able to do their laundry everyday or monitor what they eat, but you can take the steps necessary to prevent disease by making sure they are updated on their vaccines.
Alice Kimbel is the Director for Health Services at Belleramine University in Louisville, Kentucky