Age Groups and Vaccines: Teens/College

Preparing for vaccines

By the time your child is a teenager or a college student, they have received several vaccines, but it probably still doesn't feel entirely comfortable watching them get more. Most likely your teen has not had a negative experience before, and that is likely to be the case again. If your teen has had a negative experience previously, be sure to discuss that event with the doctor and your child before it is time for the next vaccine to be given.

Remember that your teen will take the lead from you. If you are feeling comfortable that this is an important and necessary thing to do, so will your teen. Find more info about considerations related to making kids comfortable with vaccines.

Because some teens have a tendency to faint, it is recommended that they are seated or lying down during vaccine administration and remain at the office for about 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.

To prepare yourself

  • Bring your teen's immunization record to the visit with you or send it with your teen, if they are going on their own. This is particularly important if your child is getting vaccinated somewhere other than at their doctor’s office, such as a college health center.
  • Write down any questions you may have and bring the list with you to the visit. You can also use the free Vaccines on the Go mobile app for recording your questions (In the “Connect” section under “Save notes or questions”).
  • Be sure to ask vaccine-related questions before the office staff comes in with the vaccine. Usually, vaccines are given after a physical exam and discussion with the teen and/or parents. Detailed questions can be discussed with your child’s primary care provider in advance of a visit to a vaccine clinic or pharmacy location. 
  • Read the Vaccine Information Sheets and any other materials that the office staff provides to you.
  • Consider using this CARD handout to ensure a more positive experience for your child. The CARD system encourages planning ahead to be prepared when it comes to Comforting your child, Asking questions, Relaxing yourself and your child, and Distracting your child if they are apprehensive.

To prepare your teen/college student

Hopefully, teens are used to receiving vaccines, and the visit does not cause angst. However, if your teen is afraid of needles, ensure you plan a distraction. Apprehensive teens can be encouraged to listen to music, play an electronic game, or engage in conversation in order to focus on something other than the impending vaccination. Your teen may also be more cooperative if you approve the vaccination and then leave the room while the vaccine is administered.

After the vaccines

Once back home, realize that your teen may be more tired than usual. They may be sore where the shot was given. Try to be patient and understanding and provide comfort to your teen. If the area where the shot was given is red, tender or swollen, your teen can use ice on the area, and encourage ongoing use of the arm. Give your teen plenty of fluids and be aware that they may be less interested in food over the next 24 hours.

Because fevers are part of the immune response, it is most often not recommended that they be treated. If you have questions, talk with your child’s doctor. Find out more about fevers on this Q&A sheet.

Watch for signs of a reaction from the vaccine, including a rash, prolonged fever, or unusual behaviors. If you have any reason for concern, call the doctor who can tell you what to expect and what to do.

While most side effects are minor, if your teen has a severe reaction, you or the doctor can file a report to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System or VAERS.

Vaccines that college students may need

While colleges will likely require certain vaccines, some that are not required may still be of benefit. Consider the following regardless of whether or not they are required:

  • Meningococcal vaccine — Particularly if your college student will be staying on campus in a dorm, they should get two different meningococcal vaccines if they did not get them previously. One protects against four types of meningococcus (A, C, W, and Y), and a second one protects against meningococcus B. Studies have shown that college students are at particular risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis.
  • Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap) — Your teen may need a booster dose; the dose can be with either Tdap or Td.
  • Human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine — If your teen has not had the recommended doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cervical and other cancers and genital warts, it should be considered. For teens starting the vaccine at age 15 years and older, three doses of HPV vaccine are recommended. If the vaccine series was started before 15 years of age, only two doses are needed.
  • Your teen may also need to catch up on other vaccines, including COVID-19, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B vaccines.

Remember that a recommendation means that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians agree that a vaccine is needed for best health; however, individual states determine which vaccines are required, and those decisions are often based on other factors. Likewise, colleges and universities will also likely have their own requirements for entry.

Be sure to discuss general health issues with your child as well. Many college students become run down, don't eat well, and don't fit regular exercise into their routine leaving them more susceptible to illness.

A vaccine issue for this age group: Keeping your teen or college student healthy

In addition to making sure college students have the appropriate supplies and are prepared to be away from home, make sure they are prepared to take care of their health:

  • Do they need to take any prescription medications?
  • Do they have basic medications and first aid supplies?
  • Do they know where the student health clinic is located and its phone number?
  • Do they know the signs that they or someone around them needs immediate medical attention?
  • Do they understand their health insurance?
  • Do they know the location of the closest urgent care facility or hospital?

Students and international travel

Whether in high school or college, many students participate in programs that include international travel. If your teen is among this group, it is a good idea to get in touch with a travel clinic before it is time for the trip. Healthcare providers in travel clinics specialize in health concerns related to travel and provide vaccines that may be needed. Learn more about preparing for travel and finding a travel clinic near you (see “Travelers” section).

Other resources

Reviewed by Lori Handy, MD, MSCE on April 24, 2023

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.