December 18, 2018
Back-to-School Vaccines

Back-to-School Vaccines

by Amanda Z. Naprawa

If you walk into any store right now, the prevalence of all the "Back-to-School" displays is an instant reminder that summer is coming to an end. In addition to buying your kindergartner new crayons and a backpack, or prepping your rising college freshman for life in the dorms, it is also time to think about what vaccinations your child needs in order to enter school.

Although public school requirements may vary by state, and college requirements by specific school, here is a general rundown of the immunizations you'll need to show proof of, organized by age.

Vaccines before kindergarten

Nearly every state requires that rising kindergarteners show proof of immunization against several diseases, including:

These diseases are typically vaccinated against using combined shots, administered shortly after birth through about age 4. In most states, it is required that kindergarteners be vaccinated against these diseases with the dosage and spacing recommended by the CDC. Depending on your state, however, your kindergartener may need other early childhood vaccinations as well. These include:

If you are unsure what your state requires, you can find out quite easily by visiting your state health department’s web page and looking for immunization requirements. Your child’s school and his or her pediatrician will also know which specific immunizations are required before starting kindergarten. And remember, if your child transfers into a new school after kindergarten, they will still need to meet these immunization requirements.

Vaccines before middle school/junior high

Transitioning from elementary school into middle school and junior high (usually 6th or 7th grade) brings more than just a change of school and new friends for many adolescents. In many states it can also mean getting updated and new vaccinations. Many states require that 6th and/or 7th graders receive a “booster” shot of the vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. While younger children are given the DTaP, the booster for adolescents and adults is a similar vaccine called Tdap. This booster helps protect against any possible waning effects from previous immunization your child already has against these diseases.

In addition to the Tdap booster, more than one-third of states now require vaccination against meningococcal disease in adolescence. Meningococcal disease is a bacterial illness that is spread person-to-person (for example, by saliva or respiratory excretions). Even if you don’t think your 7th grader is going to be kissing anyone, it is important to protect your middle-schooler against this disease. Adolescents and young adults are at a higher risk of becoming infected with these bacteria, and it’s a very serious disease. Meningococcal disease, although uncommon, can lead to permanent disability, such as amputation of limbs, and even death—tragically, in some cases, in as little as a few hours of becoming seriously ill. In fact, even if your state does not require this vaccination for school, it is recommended by the CDC and should be given to your preteen anyway.

In a handful of states, you may also need to verify that your 6th or 7th grader has been immunized against varicella (chickenpox). Most likely, if your child went to school in the same state for elementary school, he or she is already immunized against chickenpox and you will not need to do anything.

Finally, you should be aware of the recommendations relating to the HPV vaccine. Rhode Island and Virginia are among the few states that require the HPV vaccine but public health departments, including the CDC, strongly recommend vaccinating your adolescent against HPV. The recommendation is for both boys and girls to be vaccinated against HPV between the ages of 11 and 12. Not only are you protecting your child against genital warts, but, even more importantly, you will be protecting your child against certain forms of cancer. So, like the meningococcal vaccine, it may not be required for school, but it is really a good idea to have it anyway.

Vaccines before college

You may be packing your college freshman off to life in the dorms, but you are not done protecting him or her yet. Some states have mandatory vaccination requirements for higher education students, with the most common one being immunization against meningococcal disease.

Students living in the close contact of dormitories are at increased risk of spreading meningococcal disease. Even if the state does not require it, many colleges and universities are now making proof of immunization against meningococcal disease a requirement to enroll in the school. Remember, while only a few states legally mandate that college students be vaccinated against disease, many colleges have their own admission requirements of which you need to be aware.

See also: The Dangers of Going Unvaccinated