Depending on where you live in the U.S., your school system, college or university requires that you get certain immunizations before you can start school. Why is that? Vaccinations both protect YOU from disease, AND they help protect your classmates and family, too, because you can’t carry an infection to them. This is especially important when you have older people or babies in your home who may be more vulnerable to infection.
Measles, mumps, and whooping cough (pertussis) are all illnesses that were almost eliminated—and have come back, due to people who weren’t vaccinated getting exposed, whether in another country when traveling, or from other unvaccinated people. The flu shot is an example of a vaccine that nearly everyone needs, and that you need to get every year because the strains of flu virus change. Some vaccines like the HPV vaccine require a series of shots.
Vaccinations protect you, your family and your friends from the possibility of serious illness. Did you know people can die or suffer serious damage from measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), diphtheria, and even the flu? And a “childhood disease” like chickenpox is far more dangerous if you catch it as an adult. The HPV vaccine prevents cancers caused by the human papilloma virus, such as cervical cancer, oral cancers and rectal cancer. The HPV vaccine also reduces your risks of getting genital warts. Getting the shot when you’re young keeps you safe from HPV infection when you have sexual contact.
Which Shots Do I Need?
The specific immunizations that you might need depend on which ones you had when you were younger, and on your age. You may require catch-up vaccinations if you missed some. If you have already received the standard childhood vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following vaccines:
- A flu vaccine every year
- One shot of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) at age 11 or 12, or a catchup if needed and then tetanus booster every 10 years thereafter ( required for school)
- HPV vaccine series
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) ( required for school) series
- Meningococcal Serotype B vaccine series
- If you have certain health or lifestyle conditions, pneumococcal vaccine
- Catch-up vaccinations for hepatitis B, hepatitis A, polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and varicella (chickenpox), if you were not vaccinated for these previously
You can also find out from your school system, college or university which shots are required and what you have to present to show that you’ve had them. Generally, your doctor or health care provider who administers a vaccine will give you a certificate of immunization. Be sure to keep these, because you may need them for school or even for some jobs.
Are Vaccinations Safe?
It’s very rare to have a bad reaction to a vaccine. The most common reactions are soreness and swelling in the area of the shot or a low-grade fever. Be sure to tell your doctor of any allergies you have before you get the shot or if you’ve had reactions to vaccines in the past. People who have a weakened immune system, like from AIDS or cancer treatment, should talk to their doctor before getting immunized. Young women who are pregnant should talk to a doctor or health clinic about which shots they need.
How Can I Get Vaccinations?
It’s not your fault if you don’t have all your shots. And you don’t have to start over again if you didn’t complete a series. You just pick up where you left off.
Your doctor can determine which vaccines you need and give you the shots. Flu vaccines are also available at many pharmacies. If you don’t have health insurance, federally funded health centers provide a number of health care services. You pay what you can afford, and immunizations are included. When you’re going to a new (to you) provider, it helps to bring your records of previous immunizations with you, if you have them.
If you live in the New York City area and are 10-22 years old, you can get free, confidential health care including immunizations at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Just call for an appointment or come by.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.