Are Your Teens Up-To-Date on Their Vaccines?

A teenager getting caught up on her vaccines.
Photo by Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

As your kids graduate high school or start work or college, getting protected against vaccine-preventable diseases probably isn’t very high on their to-do list.

Once you realize that these diseases, like measles, flu, and meningococcal meningitis, etc., might in the best case scenario just keep you out of school for a few weeks, but can also tragically be deadly, you will hopefully encourage them to catch up on all of their vaccines.

Your Teen and Vaccines

You probably shouldn’t just assume that they have already had all of their immunizations just because they were attending public or private high school. Even if you had been following the standard immunization schedule, state vaccine laws do vary, so they may have missed some.

UPDATE: November 2022

On October 20, 2022, the Center for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to add COVID-19 vaccination to the childhood immunization schedule. While the CDC makes vaccine recommendations, each state will determine which ones are required for school entry. The updated schedule is set to be released in early 2023.

To be sure they have had all of their recommended vaccines, talk to your doctor and compare their immunization record against the latest immunization schedule from the CDC. You can likely get a copy of their shot record from:

Since most colleges and many employers will require their immunization record, it’s a good idea to make sure it is up-to-date well before they graduate high school.

Unfortunately, if you can’t find their immunization records, you will either have to have blood tests to verify that they are immune or have some vaccine doses repeated.

Vaccines for High School Catch-up

Are they missing any vaccines?

Although most high school students have had their DTaP, MMR, hepatitis B, and polio vaccines, etc., they may have missed some others that are not mandated by law in their state.

These vaccines include those that protect us against:

  • Hepatitis A — a two-dose series that is traditionally given to toddlers
  • Chickenpox — some states don’t mandate a recommended second dose of Varivax
  • Meningococcal disease – traditionally given as a two-dose series at age 11-12 years, with a booster at age 16-18 years, but fewer than half of states even mandate the first dose
  • HPV — only two states, Virginia and Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia have a mandate for the human papilloma vaccine

Even the Tdap vaccine, which protects us against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis isn’t required for kids to attend school in Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, and South Dakota.

Vaccines for College and Young Adults

If you have been seeing your pediatrician or family doctor for a yearly checkup and have been getting vaccinated according to the recommended CDC immunization schedule, there is a good chance that your teen will only need a yearly flu vaccine and one other vaccine before heading off to college — a meningococcal booster.

Although not a common infection, the results of getting meningococcal disease are often devastating. Up to 15% of cases are life-threatening and of those that survive, up to 19% have serious long-term effects, including loss of arms, legs, fingers, or toes, neurological disability, and deafness, etc.

According to the latest recommendations, a booster dose of meningococcal vaccine, either Menactra or Menveo, is “routinely recommended” for all teens, but is especially important for “first-year college students living in residence halls.” These vaccines protect against Neisseria meningitidis serogroups A, C, W, and Y, which cause over 70% of cases in older children.

New meningococcal vaccines against the serogroup responsible for the remainder of cases, Bexsero and Trumenba, are also now available. First used on an investigational basis during outbreaks at Princeton and the University of California, Santa Barbara, they are recommended for anyone between the ages of 10 and 25 years who is at increased risk for meningococcal disease because of underlying medical conditions.

Although not yet universally recommended, teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 23 years may also get either Bexsero or Trumenba if they want to be protected against serogroup B meningococcal disease.

Vaccines for Special Situations

Even if your kids are truly up-to-date on their vaccines and are ready for college, they still might be missing a few vaccines in certain special situations.

Do they have any chronic medical problems, like diabetes, sickle cell disease, or immune system problems? If so, then they may need one or more pneumococcal vaccines if they haven’t had them already, including Prevnar 13 and the Pneumovax 23 vaccine.

Are they going to be traveling out of the country as part of your post-graduation plans? Travel vaccines, including those that protect against measles, typhoid, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and meningococcal disease, might be recommended depending on where they are going.

Graduating from high school will bring enough challenges. Don’t let missing vaccines and getting a vaccine-preventable disease to add to them.

1 Source
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ACIP Immunization Schedule Vote

Additional Reading
  • CDC. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years — United States, 2015. MMWR Weekly. February 6, 2015 / 64(04);93-94.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.