An open dialogue: mandatory meningitis vaccines

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<em>Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in a six-part series about legislation that would affect students. We have asked campus leaders, students, faculty, politicians and administrators to weigh in on this week’s topic of debate: mandatory meningitis shots for college students.<em/>

<strong> The bill: <strong>

House Bill 1816: relating to the vaccination against bacterial meningitis of first-time students at public and private or independent institutions of higher education

Sponsors and contact information:
Authors: Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, 512-463-0710
Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, 512-463-0494
Byron Cook, R-Austin, 512-463-0730
Co-author: Alma Allen, D-Houston, 512-463-0744

<em>To find contact information for your local state representative or state senator, please visit the Capitol’s “Who Represents Me” page at www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us<em/>

<strong> The question: Should meningitis vaccines be required for all Texas college students? <strong/>

<strong>Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, H.B. 1816 author <strong/>

One of the most essential functions our state government can serve is that of protecting life. When it becomes apparent that an object stands in the way of that function, it behooves the state to act. This is the case with bacterial meningitis on our college campuses.

Bacterial meningitis is an illness that can result in the loss of extremities and severely impact an individual’s normal way of life. Most seriously, this disease can result in death. This illness has claimed the lives of students and caused grief and sorrow to numerous communities across Texas.

Last session, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 4189, requiring all incoming freshmen and transfer students, living on campus, to receive the bacterial meningitis vaccination. This law was named after Jamie Schanbaum, a student at the University of Texas who survived the fatal illness. However, Jamie lived off campus, and the very piece of legislation named after her would not have protected her.

Nicolis Williams, a junior at Texas A&M University, recently passed away due to bacterial meningitis. His passing occurred after House Bill 4189 was passed. Nicolis also lived off campus.

House Bill 1816 expands the requirement to receive the bacterial meningitis vaccination to all incoming students, those that reside on campus as well as off campus. This will help ensure that one of Texas’ most precious assets, its youth, are able to fulfill their potential without the risk of unnecessary loss of life.

<strong>Andy Fernandez, Libertarian Longhorns<strong/>

As a principled libertarian, I am a strict adherent to the axiom of non-aggression, which is to say that I am always against the initiation of force or coercion. With that in mind, requiring all Texas college students to be vaccinated with meningitis is clearly a violation of the underlying principle of libertarianism.

The ends never justify the means. While this proposed piece of legislation may have good intentions, the way in which it seeks to accomplish its goal of healthier students is unacceptable. It is advocating for the forced medication of people who may not all choose to give their consent otherwise. It is unreasonable, unjust and violent to support legislation such as this.

If we wish to create a more peaceful and prosperous society, then we must not be so quick to use the legalized force of the state to attempt to solve all of our problems. Too often do we try to solve problems that resulted due to violence with more violence and this mandate is just another example. Let us promote peace and voluntary cooperation rather than violence and coercion.

<strong>Jeanne Carpenter, UHS Director and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs<strong/>

Depending upon the date such a law might take effect and the meaning of some of the terms used in the bill, mechanisms needed to communicate requirements to students and ensure compliance could affect University Health Services, Admissions, the Office of the Registrar, the Office of the Dean of Students’ New Student Orientation programs and other campus departments. In all likelihood, additional staff would be needed to implement and monitor requirements of the bill.

<strong>Quotes to note HB1816:<strong/>

“It’s a machine gun approach to try to prevent such an isolated, rare event.”
<em>— Dawn Richardson, president of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education, as reported by The Texas Tribune.<em/>

“It is imperative that this bill be passed into law this session ... Nicolis’ death was both preventable and unnecessary, and passing House Bill 1816 will ensure that no other young Texan loses their life from such a terrible and preventable illness.”
<em>— Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, as reported by FortBendNow.<em/>

“When a student dies from the area I represent, it really hits home that we need to change the law to include that all college students need to be vaccinated.”
<em>— Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.<em/>

“It is a travesty that young Texans are still dying from bacterial meningitis. It is my hope that the Texas House will come together in a bipartisan effort to swiftly pass House Bill 1816 and send it to the Senate to do the same.”
<em>— Rep. Howard, as reported by FortBendNow.<em/>

“When you have that kind of situation, I really think the best policy in Texas would be to let the ultimate decision be with the family themselves.”
<em>— Dawn Richardson on whether the state should require college students to get the meningococcal vaccination, according to The Texas Tribune.<em/>

<em>What’s your opinion on the meningitis bill? E-mail us at firingline@dailytexanonline.com<em/>