Florida board set to approve student vaccination policies for state

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:23 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Fearing the potentially deadly consequences of students contracting bacterial meningitis while enrolled at public universities, the state Board of Governors is expected to approve a statewide measure here todaythursday that would mirror the University of Florida's vaccination policies for the disease.

Like those at UF, students across Florida would be required to be vaccinated for meningitis unless they sign an affidavit explaining that they have "been made aware of the potential fatal nature" of the disease and still choose not to be vaccinated. The measure would create the same vaccination requirements for hepatitis B, a virus that attacks the liver.

The board's proposal comes about four months after a student at the University of South Florida died of meningitis. The potentially fatal disease attacks the brain and spinal cord and quickly takes the lives of some victims.

Meningitis is relatively rare, affecting about 3,000 Americans each year, according to the National Meningitis Association. While still uncommon, meningitis cases are more prevalent among the college population because of the close proximity of students' living quarters.

About 10 percent of meningitis patients die, and 20 percent of those who survive suffer long-term consequences, including brain damage, kidney disease, hearing loss or limb amputations, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

"If people do get this disease, the outcomes are often awful," said Dr. Phil Barkley, director of UF's Student Health Care Center.

UF has the same vaccination requirements for hepatitis B as it does for meningitis, but Barkley notes that most students already have hepatitis B vaccinations well before they arrive on campus because doctors strongly recommend children have the vaccination.

UF has more stringent vaccination requirements for measles, mumps and rubella than it does for meningitis or hepatitis B. Students can only waive vaccination requirements for those three diseases if they have a documented medical or religious reason for doing so.

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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