Bills to require vaccine shots for meningitis at University

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On the Lege

Editor’s note: This is the final installation of a six-part series examining bills that could impact the lives of students. After Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugarland, spoke at the funeral of a constituent who died from bacterial meningitis, he decided to push legislation that would require all students to get a vaccine against the disease before entering college. Texas A&M junior Nicolis Williams’ family said they hoped other students would not contract the same disease as their son, and Howard said he agreed with their sentiment. “Even before the funeral, what they were more concerned about was that this didn’t happen to students in the future,” Howard said. “That really made an impression on me.” Current law, which is the Jamie Schanbaum Act passed in 2009, requires all incoming students who will live in residence halls to receive the vaccine. Schanbaum was a sophomore at UT when she contracted bacterial meningitis in 2008. She had not gotten the vaccine because she lived off campus. Williams also lived off campus, and Howards said the 2009 law would not have helped either student. He said he hopes his bill will help all students. “Students are our future; they are our hope,” Howard said. “We need to protect them in every way we can. That is the government’s role to protect our citizens.” Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, also filed a meningitis bill in the state Senate. Both bills serve as an extension of current law bringing Texas into compliance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Davis’ office. Both bills would require incoming students to provide proof of the vaccination 10 days before the start of the semester or term. University Health Services senior program coordinator Sherry Bell said meningococcal disease can be devastating because of its quick onset and the serious effects it can leave. “It can go from someone being perfectly well to them being dead in a couple of days,” Bell said. “It can cause meningitis, the inflammation of the brain and systemic blood poisoning, and those things can result in loss of limbs.” According to the University Health Services website, between 1,400 and 3,000 people contract the disease each year. Despite treatment, Bell said 10-15 percent of people who get the disease die and 11-19 percent of survivors have lost fingers, toes, arms, legs and developed mental or developmental impairments. Bell said administrators who would be potentially affected by the legislation will discuss the bills’ implications. UHS currently offers the meningitis vaccine by appointment for $127 for current and accepted students. Nutrition and pre-med junior Michelle Nguyen said the only downside would be the financial impact it could have on students, especially those without health insurance. “It doesn’t sound like a bad idea because meningitis is extraordinarily contagious, not just for people in dorms, but everyone within close quarters,” Nguyen said. “The only negativity I can imagine is it would force people to pay for the vaccination.” Austin Regional Clinic physician Walter Kuhl said if the bill passes, there will not be much impact in the health care community because a dose is already required for Texas students entering seventh grade. Howard anticipates the bill will pass because it is has been favored by the Texas Commissioner of Health and Human Services and the three doctors in the House. “I request the support of the students at UT,” he said. “I would like for them to be contacting their state representatives and senators that they would like this bill passed.