Your Guide To Back To School Vaccines


Medically Reviewed

Robert Dracker, M.D., is the founder and medical director of Summerwood Pediatrics and Infusacare Medical Services, established in 1993.
Robert Dracker, M.D. Pediatrics
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Between school supply lists and first-day outfits, the end of summer can feel like a mad dash to get your child ready to go back to school. But perhaps one of the most important elements in preparing your child to return to the classroom is ensuring they’re up-to-date on any required back-to-school vaccinations.

The vaccines your child needs to attend school will depend on their age and the state in which you live, as different states have varying vaccination requirements (as well as exemptions). Read on to learn about the different vaccines required by age and what they protect against to make sure your child is ready for their first day back.

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What Vaccines Does a Child Need to Attend School?

The vaccinations required for your child to attend school will vary depending on which state you live in. Because each state makes its own requirements, there’s no universal set of requirements that applies across the U.S. However, each state generally abides by the recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) for required back-to-school vaccines.

According to Edith Dietz, M.D., a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, school mandates offer “one way of ensuring that kids who are going to be in a classroom […] have that basic protection.”

“No vaccine is ever going to offer 100% protection, but for the most part, vaccines at a minimum reduce the severity of illness and quite often they completely prevent it,” says Dr. Dietz.

The CDC recommends the following vaccines for children throughout their school years, though a child’s age will determine which vaccines and how many doses of each they’re required to have at a given time. One important note: Although the CDC does recommend an annual flu shot for children starting at the age of 6 months, most states do not require this vaccine for school attendance.

Varicella (Chickenpox)

By age 4 to 6 years old, a child has typically received a varicella vaccine, which protects against chickenpox. Two doses of this vaccine are recommended. The first dose is generally given between 12 and 15 months, and the second dose is typically given when a child is between the ages of 4 and 6 years old.

DTaP and Tdap

Both the DTaP and the Tdap vaccines protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). The key difference between the two vaccinations is at what age a child generally receives them.

Children under the age of 7 will receive DTaP, with shots given at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months, respectively, and then booster shots given at 15 through 18 months and then again at 4 to 6 years old—around when your child may be entering kindergarten.

Meanwhile, it’s recommended that children between the ages of 11 and 12 years get a shot of Tdap in order to boost their immunity against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

Additionally, children over the age of 17 who have not had a Tdap for over five years, may benefit from a booster vaccination, especially as they go off to college or gain employment.

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)

The MMR vaccine offers protection against measles, mumps and rubella. This vaccine is a two-dose series, with the first dose recommended at 12 to 15 months and the second between the ages of 4 and 6 years old.


The poliovirus vaccine, also referred to as the IPV vaccine, provides protection against polio. Given in four doses starting at 2 months old, the final dose is recommended at age 4 or after. The final dose must be given at least six months after the previous dose.

Hepatitis A and B

While your child will have likely received both hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines by the time they reach school age, they may need catch-up doses if they’ve missed any prior doses, as many states require these vaccines for school. Many older children over the age of 16 could have missed out on receiving the vaccine as a young child and it is important to vaccinate them if they didn’t receive it.  It is also important to know that individuals over the age of 19 will receive an adult version of the hepatitis A vaccine.

The hepatitis B vaccine, which protects against the synonymous virus, is generally given in three doses starting at birth, with the final dose administered once the child is at least 24 weeks old. The vaccination protecting against hepatitis A is a two-dose series that’s given between the ages of 12 and 23 months, at six-month intervals.

Both vaccines offer a number of options for catch-up vaccinations at various ages.


The HPV vaccine protects against the human papillomavirus, and the CDC recommends it for children as young as 9 years old, though it’s more routinely recommended at 11 to 12 years old. This is either a two- or three-dose vaccine depending on whether your child starts the series before or after they turn 15 years old. Data has demonstrated that if the vaccine is given before 15 years of age, the immune response is more effective and more durable or more lasting in nature which is why only two doses are needed in this age group.


There are two types of meningococcal vaccine that your child may receive: meningococcal serogroup A, C, W, Y vaccination (MenACWY) and meningococcal serogroup B vaccination (MenB). Both protect against meningococcal disease.

MenACWY is a two-dose series. The first dose is recommended between the ages of 11 and 12, while the second dose is suggested at 16 years. It can be given as young as 7 to 8 years if a child has certain medical conditions that put them at increased risk. The second MenACWY vaccine is given over the age of 16 and commonly required by the 12th grade.

Meanwhile, administration of the MenB vaccine depends on whether or not a child is at an increased risk due to a medical condition. If so, it is suggested to be administered at age 10. Many colleges are now requiring the two-dose administration, given six months apart.


Some colleges and employers are now requiring students and young adults to have the two initial vaccinations as well as at least one booster dose. Make sure that you check the requirements of your child’s school or employer so that there is ample time to receive the necessary vaccinations.

Vaccines Required by Age

Recommended and required vaccines will vary depending on your child’s age. To ensure their child is up-to-date on their vaccines, parents and caregivers can talk to their pediatrician or check their child’s medical records—if they have a copy on hand. A child’s school can also be helpful in alerting caregivers about any required vaccinations they may be missing after their vaccination records are turned in.

While the below guidelines are the recommended age ranges for children to receive particular vaccinations, there’s always the opportunity to catch up. “Depending on the specific vaccine they might be missing, each has different catch-up recommendations and schedules. But the important thing is that you think ahead as school is coming up,” warns Jennifer DeCoste-Lopez, M.D., a pediatrician at Duke Pediatrics South Durham, of the annual back-to-school rush for those who wait until the last minute.


Between the ages of 4 and  6 years old—around when your child may be entering pre-k or kindergarten—the following vaccines are recommended by the CDC for back-to-school:

  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis)
  • IPV (polio)
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Varicella (chickenpox)
  • Flu (not required, but recommended)

Elementary and Middle School

When your child is around 11 to 12 years old, which typically falls around when they’re entering seventh grade, there are a few more vaccines recommended by the CDC:

  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis)
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Meningococcal (MenACWY)
  • Flu (not required, but recommended)

High School

In high school, generally around the time your child turns 16 years old, they’ll need to receive a meningococcal vaccine to stay up-to-date for school. However, the administration of the MenB vaccine will depend on your child’s risk level.

Are Vaccines Mandatory for Back-to-School?

Whether vaccines are mandatory for back-to-school will depend on where you live. While all 50 states have laws requiring students to have certain vaccines, all states grant exemptions to children for medical reasons. Additionally, some states allow exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons, which could include personal or moral beliefs that cause parents to object to vaccination requirements.

“Again, there are subtleties to each state’s exemption rules,” says Dr. Dietz. “For example, some are live virus vaccines, so a child who is immunocompromised may not be recommended to get that vaccine at a specific time.”

Even though these exemption rules exist, it’s important to research your state’s current exemptions allowances, since some states have placed more limitations on their allowable exemptions due to recent outbreaks of the measles and other vaccine-preventable illnesses, says Dr. Dietz.

For those who are uncertain or want more information, Dr. DeCoste-Lopez recommends that parents talk to their pediatrician. “We’re there to answer parents’ questions and make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep kids healthy,” she says.


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