Staying Updated on Vaccinations on Campus

Guide to staying up-to-date with your vaccines while in college

You received all your vaccines as a young child, so you’re set for life, right? No so. Not only do many vaccines given to children wear off over time, there are many vaccines adults need that you probably didn’t get as a child. Two common examples include the HPV and meningitis vaccines. The aim for this guide is to explain the vaccines college students may need, whether it’s due to prior vaccines wearing off or the fact that college students are likely to engage in certain behaviors.

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College Vaccine Checklist

College students are at higher risk for certain infections. For example, students living in close proximity to others, such as in a dorm or a shared apartment, are at higher risk of contracting meningitis. Those who are sexually active should look into the HPV vaccine to protect them from certain cancers later in life.

The following is a list of commonly required college vaccinations for incoming students and their average cost. Because each school will have its own policy as to which vaccines it will require, students should check to confirm vaccination requirements. Additionally, schools may provide free or low-cost vaccinations, so knowing what the going rate of a given vaccination can help students make a more informed decision on how and where to be vaccinated.

Many schools don’t require, but recommend the following vaccines:

What if you’ve already been vaccinated – or you’re not sure?

Ideally, you or your parents will have a copy of your childhood vaccination records. Don’t have them? Try contacting any doctor’s office or medical clinic where you received a vaccination shot. If you went to a prior school or had an employer that required certain vaccinations, they may have a copy you previously provided to enroll or start working. Finally, you can try your state’s health department or health agency, which may have an immunization database.

Where to Get Vaccinated

There are many places you can receive vaccines. The following list of locations should provide many of the vaccines typically required for enrollment in college.

The student health center is located on campus and is usually only available to students. Depending on the school, students without insurance may get reduced cost vaccines, although this is not always the case. Students may pay for these health services with their own insurance, out of pocket or through the school’s health plan, if one is offered. Many health centers require appointment for most vaccinations, which can easily be made by emailing or calling ahead of time.

Drug stores are beginning to provide more basic healthcare services. Drug stores with urgent care clinics provide a wide array of vaccines, including many not required or recommended by colleges, such as those for malaria. Anyone can get their vaccines here and appointments are not required. Most insurance policies are accepted here, but not required for payment, as patients can always pay out of pocket.

Located in practically all college towns, grocery stores with pharmacies often provide a limited number of vaccines, such as the flu vaccine. They often also have special discounts for shoppers who get their flu shot here, although the overall price is in line with the market price. No appointment is necessary and anyone can get their shot here, even if they have no insurance, as they can pay out of pocket.

Urgent care clinics provide basic health care that doesn’t warrant an emergency room visit. A variety of preventative care services, including vaccinations, are provided to anyone, with most insurance plans accepted and no appointment required. Over the past few years, urgent care clinics have grown dramatically, but may not be available in all areas. The cost of the vaccines is in line with average market rates, but may be a bit higher.

If a student already has a physician they see regularly, they can get their vaccines with them. Appointments are generally required and individuals must usually be a patient to get their vaccines. Depending on the doctor’s office, some insurance plans won’t be accepted, although paying out of pocket is always an option.

There are a number of state and local health centers that provide basic health services, such as vaccinations. These are usually a lower cost option and available to anyone, even those without insurance. Patients pay what they are able to afford. A disadvantage of public health centers is that college students may not have one nearby.

Providing Proof of Vaccination

Colleges who have vaccination requirements will provide proof from the student. This proof can be provided in three ways.

  • Their healthcare provider can complete a form indicating what vaccinations the student received and when.

  • The student can provide immunization records from an official source, such as their doctor’s office.

  • If an official document contains vaccination information showing the student meets the college’s requirements (such as a transcript from another school that contains vaccination information), this may be sufficient proof of vaccinations.

Vaccination Exemptions

Most schools with vaccination requirements also allow students to forego the vaccinations if they apply for and are granted a waiver. Often, this waiver is for the meningitis vaccine only, although some schools allow waivers for all their vaccination requirements. There are three potential exemptions:


Even though almost no religion prohibits vaccinations, students may be able to use a religion as a basis for their exemption. Signing a waiver is typically all that is required to obtain a religious waiver, with no proof of religious affiliation needed.


Some people have medical conditions that make it dangerous to get certain vaccines. For example, those who are pregnant, have a weakened immune system or a previous history of allergic reaction to vaccines may have a justifiable medical reason to avoid some or all of a school’s required vaccines.

Philosophical and Moral

Most schools do not allow for waivers on this basis, but a select few may. A philosophical or moral opposition to vaccinations is commonly based on a variety of reasons, such as their perceived lack safety or effectiveness, pharmaceutical industry conspiracies or the idea that individuals should not be forced to inject anything into their bodies they don’t want to.

Additional Resources

Vaccines can be confusing, especially those with conflicting information about their effectiveness and how they work. Figuring out where and how to get vaccinated, as well as providing proof of vaccination, can be a daunting task for some. Luckily, there are a variety of resources available online.

American College Health Association

A leading organization focusing on college health issues. They have a special vaccine page listing available resources on immunization and vaccination topics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A U.S. government agency and world leader in maintaining public health. The immunization portion of the CDC website explains vaccination needs for children and adults, as well as certain at-risk individuals. The CDC also provides plenty of resources for obtaining immunization related medical care.

The official U.S. government health insurance exchange website where individuals can enroll in Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health insurance plans. This website is only available to those in states that chose not to run their own healthcare exchanges.

Part of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, has special pages devoted to getting vaccinated, including vaccines recommended for adults.

Minnesota Department of Health

This is a special website dedicated to explaining the meningococcal disease in great detail and how individuals can protect themselves, such as through vaccinations.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The FDA oversees the safety of the drugs and medications available in the United States. Its website provides detailed information about how vaccines are regulated and approved for use in the United States.

Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides a comprehensive overview of vaccines, from what they are to how to find a place to become vaccinated.


Provides general health insurance online, but has a special question and answer page with common questions concerning college vaccination requirements.

Expert Interview

Laurie Endicott Thomas, has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked as an editor in medical and academic publishing for more than 25 years. She is also an antiwar activist who has written five books on topics related to public education and public health. Her book No More Measles! The Truth About Vaccines and Your Health tells you everything you need to know about infectious diseases and vaccinations

Many people are nervous about vaccinations. What would you tell students who are hesitant to get the vaccinations they need?

If you lived on Gilligan’s Island, whom would you ask for advice about vaccinations: the Professor or Ginger Grant the movie star? The smart person would take advice from the Professor! Your doctor or nurse practitioner is like the Professor. Doctors and nurse practitioners have had formal training in how to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious diseases. Many doctors and nurse practitioners have seen actual cases of whooping cough or bacterial meningitis in the pediatric intensive care ward. They know how serious these diseases are. They would rather prevent those diseases than treat them!

What side effects should students expect in the days following the most common vaccinations?

Most of the side effects of vaccination are mild and temporary. The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site, which may last for a few days. Some young people are prone to fainting after any injection. To avoid that problem, rest for a few minutes after the injection.

Any tips you'd like to offer college students to help them stay healthy on campus?

Some infectious diseases spread easily on college campuses because a large number of young people are brought together in close contact. Vaccination is the only reliable way to prevent diseases that are easily spread by airborne droplets. There are even some vaccines that are useful for preventing some sexually transmitted diseases, namely hepatitis B and human papillomavirus. To avoid catching other diseases, do not share personal items, such as drinking glasses or razors. The most effective way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sex. If you do have sex, use a condom correctly, every single time. To stay healthy on campus, you also need to eat a healthy diet and refrain from abusing alcohol and drugs.  

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