Vaccines crucial for health protection

A vaccination in progress. (Photo: Komsan Loonprom)

In April, high school seniors in California and across the country begin turning a corner. Academics and extracurricular activities are joined with proms, graduation party planning, and post high school decisions that range from summer jobs to college selections to career focus. A vital aspect to prepare for life out of high school is health literacy – and specifically knowing one’s vaccination status.

Before graduation, teens need to know what vaccine preventable diseases exist and the vaccines that protect them. Teens need to know their personal vaccination status and if they are up to date on recommended vaccines.

Vaccinations are one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century, and one of the most effective tools we have.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists recommended vaccines for ages 7 – 18 years old. School nurses are on the front lines of helping to ensure that our students are safe and healthy, which includes a focus on prevention. Part of the role of school nurses is to help students transition from school to postsecondary education and the world of work. Recent cases of meningitis on college campuses across the country are a sobering reminder of why high school students should vaccinate before they graduate.

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The disease, which can be caused by a virus or bacteria and is spread through person-to-person contact, can cause brain damage, hearing loss, loss of limbs, and even death. Despite initial symptoms that may look like the flu, meningitis can turn fatal within hours.

Even when promptly treated, the CDC estimates the fatality rate for bacterial meningitis – the form most commonly found in schools and on college campuses – is between 10 and 15 percent, and as many as 19 percent of survivors suffer permanent complications.

The most effective way to stop the spread of diseases like meningitis is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Fortunately, there are now vaccines available to protect against all strains of meningitis.

Vaccinations are one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century, and one of the most effective tools we have to prevent the spread of disease and protect our most vulnerable populations. In addition to meningitis, vaccines help protect us from a broad range of potentially dangerous illnesses such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, pneumococcal disease, and many others, and in the process have helped save millions of lives.

Transitioning — whether at the time of beginning school, from school to school, school to adult life or between the hospital and school environment — provides an opportunity for care coordination led by the school nurse. Regardless of whether that next stage is college, employment or something else, we urge all California students to have a conversation with a health care provider before graduation about the most appropriate vaccine schedule.

No student should have his or her life harmed by vaccine-preventable illness.

Ed’s Note: Donna Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, CAE, is executive director of the National Association of School Nurses. In her career she worked as a school nurse at the high school level.

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