Whether young people are heading into their freshmen year of college, traveling abroad or starting a 40-hour work week, the "to-do" lists never seem to get any smaller.

But don’t forget to add a very important item to your list. As a parent of a teenager, you can actively protect your children with a tool that is often taken for granted — immunizations. 

Many employers, schools and colleges in the United States require teens to be up-to-date with all immunizations before enrolling in school or starting a new job. One especially important immunization is the meningococcal vaccine.

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness. It is especially dangerous for adolescents and young adults. It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis.

The bacteria can cause meningitis, an infection covering the brain and spinal cord. It can also infect the blood stream, a condition called meningococcemia. Infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities and even death.

One in seven adolescents and young adults who contract the disease will die from it.

For Texas schools, students are required to have a dose of meningococcal vaccine between 12 and 16 years of age. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) suggests adolescents be vaccinated less than five years before starting college. This timing will protect students through the college years, when they are at increased risk for exposure.

In order to satisfy the meningococcal vaccine requirements, students must be vaccinated within the previous five years before attending any college in Texas (including students living off-campus).

The Caring for Children Foundation of Texas’ Care Van® Program helps teens who are uninsured or on Medicaid receive the meningococcal vaccine through its annual participation in the Vaccinate Before You Graduate campaign.

The campaign targets teens and young adults who are preparing for the next chapter in their lives. Working in collaboration with various school districts, the Care Van Program is able to administer the vaccine at no charge to eligible teens before graduation.

Providing access to the meningococcal vaccine for college-bound teens is one way the Care Van Program is helping to build a healthier future for Texas. To learn more about the Care Van Program, visit carevan.org.