Vaccines and College Students: What Parents Need to Know

Here are the vaccines college students need to have.
Outbreaks of preventable disease are on the rise on college campuses. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Recently, officials at Temple University reported to parents and staff that the campus had an outbreak of the highly contagious virus known as the mumps. Mumps is a viral infection that primarily affects saliva-producing (salivary) glands that are located near your ears. Symptoms include swollen salivary glands, a “puffy cheek” appearance and cold symptoms such as headache, fatigue and fever.

Though there is no cure for mumps (patients have to wait out the symptoms and seek comfort care for related symptoms), mumps can be prevented by receiving the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination course as designated by the CDC.

According to Temple’s website, officials reported that there were 15 confirmed cases and 59 suspected cases bringing the total of infected individuals to 74, which constituted an outbreak by public health standards. Naturally, concerned parents flooded Temple’s Facebook page with questions regarding the health of their teens.

Outbreaks of preventable diseases are on the rise and, as our teens head to college, concerns about their health while living in dorms are at the forefront of our minds. Highly contagious diseases like mumps and influenza can spread rapidly through close quarter dorms and it is stressful when your college kid calls home to tell you they are feeling miserable. 

Because every college has different requirements for vaccination upon admission, it can be difficult to determine what diseases your college kid might be exposed to when they head off in the Fall. While your teen will be exposed to a variety of germs while living in a group setting or in an off campus apartment, there are preventable diseases that tend to affect young adults on college campuses more prevalently.

What Shots Do College Students Need?


Influenza, or the flu, is caused by a virus and can make a college student miserable from aches, chills, headache and high fever. Lost productivity, missed class time and related medical issues can arise from catching the flu while living on a campus. Studies have shown that productivity is increased and symptoms are minimized when students are vaccinated for the flu when the vaccine becomes available in early September. Encouraging your college student to head to the campus health center for a yearly flu shot not only protects your kid but also the rest of the campus community.

Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that cause by a tetanus spore that makes its way into an open wound or cut somewhere on the body. Your college student could be exposed to tetanus by scraping up against a rusty fence or accidentally stepping on a loose nail on a run. Diphtheria is much less common but it’s a serious bacterial infection that will affect the lining of the lungs if contracted. 

Currently, the most concerning disease in this category is pertussis, more commonly known as “whooping cough.” Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. Whooping cough cases have  been on the rise in recent years due to lower vaccination rates. Pertussis is highly contagious through contact with the respiratory secretions caused by the persistent coughing. And, in a college dorm, exposure to pertussis with a known case on the floor can put your teen at risk.

In order to protect your teen against Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis, the CDC recommends a booster of the Tdap vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12. And adults should receive a Tdap every 10 years. Check with your doctor about where your teen falls on this schedule. 

Bacterial Meningitis 

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacteria that about 1 in 10 people carry in the back of their throat or nose with no symptoms. People spread meningococcal bacteria from close personal contact with infected respiratory or salivary fluids. In short, on a college campus, meningitis outbreaks can spread like wild fire because of close quarter living and sexual experimentation. Currently, the CDC is reporting outbreaks of meningeal bacteria at Rutgers University, Columbia University, and San Diego State University. 

You can protect your teen from bacterial meningitis by administering the  MenACWY vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12 and a booster at the age of 16. Your doctor can help you decide what the best course of action is for your particular teen’s health needs.

Many serious diseases are preventable with a simple, safe vaccine and parents should make sure their teen is up to date on all vaccines before sending them off to college.

See immunization chart here:

Birth-18 Years & “Catch-up” Immunization Schedules


Get These 4 Vaccines for College (Consumer Reports)

When Your College Kid is Sick or Has an Emergency, These are the Documents You May Need

For The Average Young Athlete, Sports Isn’t A Free Ride To College

About Christine Burke

Christine Burke is the owner of the popular parenting blog, Keeper of The Fruit Loops. Her work has been featured on the Today Show, The Girlfriend, Scary Mommy, and other parenting websites. She writes about the realities of soon sending her not-so-little -anymore kids off to college and prays she doesn’t use too many comma splices in the process.

Read more posts by Christine

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