Make Vaccinations Part of Your Back-to-School Plan

By Brenna Robinson, Outreach & Engagement Specialist for UVA Cancer Center

While many parents have prepared for the upcoming school year by discussing the COVID-19 vaccine with their child’s pediatrician, some children are behind on other immunizations due to the pandemic. If your child is behind, now is a great time to catch up. You can also look into some often overlooked vaccinations at this school vaccination appointment.

Yvonne Edwards, a school nurse in Scott County, said childhood vaccinations protect you and your family. “Childhood immunization has been so effective in preventing death and disease that many parents today have not encountered – diseases that were once common years ago. Therefore, healthy children miss less in-class instructional time, making for healthy students,“ she said.

Effective July 1, 2021, the HPV vaccination series is required by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) for all Virginia students entering seventh grade. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can lead to six types of cancer, and nearly all men and women will get an HPV infection at some time in their life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many HPV strains resolve on their own, but they can cause cancers of the mouth, throat, genitals and cervix when they do not. The HPV vaccine is recommended starting at age 9 to protect children before they are exposed to the infection.

Dianne Morris, the Mountain Laurel Support and Resource Center Coordinator for Mountain Empire Older Citizens, Inc.,  is working with Lee, Scott and Wise counties along with the City of Norton to ensure HPV vaccinations are provided to prevent cancer. Morris’s work has provided rising seventh graders with updated HPV vaccination information as part of the schools’ vaccination packets. She has also contacted local doctors and dentists to let them know the resource center has HPV education and resources available for use. 

“It [the HPV vaccine] is a cancer preventative vaccination which protects against throat and neck cancer, anal, penis, cervical and vulvar cancers. That is why it is so important to get vaccinated at an early age. COVID-19 has impacted all vaccinations, and with school starting back in person this fall, it is imperative that parents in southwest Virginia have their children vaccinated for HPV,” Morris said.

Emma McKim Mitchell, Director of Global Initiatives at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, said there is lots of evidence to support the use of the HPV vaccine. “There has been a lot of good research about how safe it is and how effective it is, and it really doesn’t have any additional risks compared with other vaccines we routinely give. The vaccine currently available here in the U.S. and in some other countries as well, protects against nine different strains of the virus, which means even more protection for those vaccinated,“she said.

In addition to the HPV vaccine, VDH also updated their requirements for students to have the Hepatitis A (HAV) vaccine and Meningococcal Conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine. Effective July 1, a minimum of two doses of the HAV and MenACWY vaccine are required for children to attend school. The Tdap booster dose is also necessary for all children entering seventh grade in Virginia.

With the additional updates, cancer prevention, and COVID-19 precautions, taking the time to discuss vaccines with your child’s pediatrician is an essential part of preparing for school this year. As Edwards said: ”Don’t wait, vaccinate!”

This article is from the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement for the University of Virginia Cancer Center. Dianne Morris, co-chair and Yvonne Edwards, member lead outreach with The Cancer Center Without Walls Southwest Virginia Community Advisory Board in addressing cancer disparities and access to care in Appalachia. For more information, visit the Cancer Center Without Walls’ website:

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