Weekly challenge: Make sure college students are up-to-date on vaccinations

Parents sending children off to college for the first time may be busy buying dorm bedding and laptops, but they should also do a quick call to the pediatrician to make sure their child isn’t missing any vital immunizations. Only 54 percent of teens girls have received at least one dose of the human papillomavirus vaccine to protect against the cervical-cancer causing virus, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

An editorial that accompanied the report noted that increasing the three-dose HPV vaccination to 80 percent of teen girls would prevent an estimated additional 53,000 cases of cervical cancer during their lifetime. Boys should also get this vaccine to protect their future partners from the sexually transmitted virus and to protect themselves against anal cancer and possibly throat cancer.

Here’s a list of vaccines parents should make sure their teens are up to date on before they send them off to college.

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1. HPV vaccine. This multiple-dose vaccine is recommended for girls ages 13 through 26 years and for boys ages 13 through 21 years, who were not yet vaccinated. The CDC recommends the vaccine be given at ages 11 or 12—before children become sexually active.

2. Tdap vaccine. As protection against pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diptheria begins to wane from earlier vaccinations, older kids need a booster shot, preferably at ages 11 or 12, but up through age 18 for those who haven’t gotten one yet.

3. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). This protects against some bacteria that cause meningitis, which has been known to spread easily in college dorms. While a first vaccine dose is recommended at age 11 or 12, teens ages 16 through 18 need a booster. “If a teenager missed getting the vaccine altogether, they should ask the doctor about getting it now, especially if they are about to move into a college dorm or military barracks,” recommends the CDC.

4. Flu shot. Teens should get a flu vaccine every year, in addition to everyone else six months of age or older. The new one for the upcoming winter flu season should be hitting doctors’ offices in the early fall. That may be after teens head off to college, so parents may need to make a few pestering phone calls to their teens to make sure they get immunized on campus.