First time UTSA students, including new transfer students, are required by a new Texas law to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis or provide documentation of prior vaccination before they begin classes. For Spring 2012, Immunization records were due to UTSA Health Services no later than ten days prior to the first day of classes.
Exemptions from the vaccine were granted to qualifying students who were enrolled last fall; however, those students meeting the vaccine requirements who were not enrolled in the fall will now be required receive the vaccine or provide immunization records prior to the 2012 summer and fall semesters.
The new law expands previous legislation passed in 2009 requiring meningitis vaccines for Texas college students under 30 living on campus to include students residing off campus as well.
Senate Bill 1107, known as the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act, was signed into law in May 2011 after Texas A&M student, Nicolis Williams died from bacterial meningitis. Williams was not required to receive a meningitis vaccine because he lived off campus.
To meet the influx of students requiring immunization, UTSA Student Health Services began preparations early last year to meet the new law’s requirements.
“As soon as the legislation was signed by Governor Perry at the end May last year, we held meetings with the Registrar’s Office, the IT Department and the Office of Admissions to develop a plan of organization,” Director of Student Health Services Dr. Beth Wichman said.
Registration holds were placed on students who did not meet the new requirement to ensure they were vaccinated before the Jan. 7 cut-off date. Students who missed the deadline due to extraordinary circumstances were given until the 10th day of classes this semester to be immunized or show proof of immunization.
Approximately 2,300 students were impacted by the registration holds, which were lifted once the immunization requirement was met. Student Health Services reported that only five students were ineligible to register because they missed the deadline.
Of the students who met the vaccine requirements, 38 were granted waivers for medical reasons and on the basis of conscientious objections. UTSA Student Health Services has administered 600 meningitis vaccines since the new program started in summer 2011.
The meningitis vaccine requirement for Texas college students first became law in 2009 when UT student Jamie Schanbaum fell ill to the disease in 2008. Schanbaum, who lost all ten fingers and both legs due to severe complications, made headlines across Texas for her work with state law makers to enact legislation requiring immunization against the potentially deadly disease.
Meningitis, a form of meningococcal disease, is a viral or bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The vaccine targets bacterial meningitis with symptoms including fever, severe headache and stiff neck.
Because these symptoms are similar to influenza, bacterial meningitis can be difficult for sufferers to recognize. Most cases of bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics; however, hospital care may be required for severe cases.
Bacterial meningitis is spread through person-to-person contact, which is why it poses a danger to college students, especially those living on campus.
“It was thought that dorm students were at higher risk,” Wichman said. “(For students) living in close quarters or with large groups of people, the carrier state of the meningitis bacteria increases greatly.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1,000 and 2,600 cases of meningococcal disease are reported each year across the United States. Meningitis can lead to serious health complications such as loss of limbs, deafness, seizures and strokes. The disease can progress rapidly and the CDC estimates that 10 percent of reported cases result in death.
“The actual instance of the disease is fairly infrequent, but is very deadly when it occurs,” Wichman said.
UTSA Student Health Services expects a significant increase in the number of students who meet the vaccine criteria for the 2012 summer and fall semesters. Registration holds will be placed on those who do not meet the vaccine deadline. UTSA Student Health Services anticipates they will release 12,000 registration holds as students get their vaccines or show proof they have been immunized.
Beginning in May, representatives from UTSA Student Health Services will be present at all 12 new student orientation sessions to answer questions, process immunization records and give guidance on how to obtain the vaccine.
Plans are also in place to ensure the clinic has plenty of the vaccine on-hand to meet the demand of the upcoming semesters.
“We look at our inventory from week to week and if we see a jump in the need for the vaccine, we have a three-day turnaround from the time we place an order and the time we receive it,” Wichman said.
The vaccine costs approximately $100 and is offered by Student Health Services. However, because the vaccine is required by law, some health insurance companies will cover the cost of the vaccine. There is also a vaccine allowance for students covered by their student United Health Care policy purchased through UTSA.
Vaccines are also available through primary health care providers, H.E.B., Walgreen’s and Texas Med Clinic. Although the cost is covered by most insurance, Student Health Services does not accept outside insurance coverage.
UTSA Student Health Services will offer the vaccine free of charge to students under the age of 19 who have no insurance or if their insurance does not cover the cost of immunization.
Free vaccines against Influenza, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis and Human Papillomavirus for men and women are also available through Student Health Services for those who qualify.
UTSA Student Health Services has locations at both the main and downtown campuses. For more information on vaccine requirements, students can call the clinic’s main campus location at (210) 458-4142, their downtown office at (210) 458-2930 or visit their website at http://utsa.edu/health/.