Summer vacation is winding down, and soon students across Kentucky will be heading back to school. To protect their own health and the health of others around them, children and teens of all ages should make sure their immunizations are up to date before beginning another academic year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children start building immunity against infectious diseases at an early age. While most children receive initial doses of vaccines during the first year after birth, their risk for contracting certain diseases increases as they get older. The CDC advises that children receive multiple doses, or booster shots, of certain vaccines to maintain immunity as they age.
For elementary aged children, the CDC recommends vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TDaP); measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); and the flu, among others. As young adults, the likelihood of contracting other contagious diseases such as HPV rises, and additional vaccinations are recommended. The full immunization schedule for children ages 18 and under can be found on the CDC website.
The importance of immunizations doesn’t subside as students enter college. In fact, this is a time when many individuals are most at risk for catching contagious illnesses. College dormitories are breeding grounds for bacteria that can grow and spread quickly, putting students’ health in danger.
One disease in particular has earned a rightfully bad reputation for its presence on college campuses. More than 100 students have died from bacterial meningitis contracted on college campuses in the past eight years, but it is preventable. Thanks to advances in medical research, there are now immunizations available for all five strains of bacterial meningitis: A, C, W, Y and most recently, B.
The vaccine for serogroup B, which came on the market a couple years ago, is different than the traditional conjugate vaccine that protects against the A, C, W and Y strains. The B strain accounts for nearly one-third of all bacterial meningitis cases, yet more than 80 percent of parents are unaware that there is a difference between the vaccine that protects against groups A, C, W and Y and the vaccine that protects against group B.
During the spring semester, cases of meningitis B were reported at Marshall University, Rutgers University and in our own backyard at the University of Kentucky. It is critical that students receive the immunization against serogroup B in addition to the conjugate vaccine.
The University of Louisville, University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University are the only public schools in the state that require immunizations for incoming freshmen. More of Kentucky’s colleges and universities should consider adopting immunization policies that better protect student health and minimize the chance of outbreaks.
Even when they are not mandated, immunizations should remain at the top of any student’s summer to-do list, regardless of age. Getting to the doctor now is critical to protecting you and your peers against dangerous diseases in the fall.
Tracy Kielman is director of the Kentucky Immunization Coalition.