Laws concerning meningitis vaccinations changed in January 2010, directly affecting the requirements to live on a Texas college campus.
Meningitis is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
“It is now a Texas state law that anyone living on a college campus must have a bacterial meningitis shot,” said Patti Ramey, Residential Life Coordinator at Tyler Junior College.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, viral meningitis is usually less severe than bacterial meningitis and clears up without any specific treatment. But bacterial meningitis can leave its host with brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities. People ages 16-21 have the highest rates of this disease, which is one reason the shot is now required. The effectiveness of this vaccination lasts about five years.
“I think there is a good basis for requiring meningitis vaccinations on campus. Even though it is not a highly common disease, it is easily spread through students that are in close contact with one another,” said Joseph Hallman, a representative with the UT Health Science Center.
Bacterial meningitis is contagious. It is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions by activities such as coughing, sneezing, and kissing. The main symptoms of meningitis are high fever, headache, and a stiff neck.
“Any college in Texas, two-year or four-year, now requires the vaccination to live on campus. If you are a student that does not live on campus, it is not required,” said Ramey.
The Texas State Health Department has a request form on their website for people who wish to be exempt from the vaccination for reasons of conscience. The reasons are usually religious. Students may also be exempt from the shot if a physician decides that the vaccine would be hazardous to their overall health and well-being. If a student does choose to be exempt from this vaccination, they will be denied access to live on any college campus in Texas.
“The shot is somewhat costly, because the vaccination is difficult to make, but most people’s insurance should cover at least some of it,” said Hallman.
The TJC website states that students wishing to live on campus at TJC must be able to show proof of their bacterial meningitis vaccine 10 days prior to moving in to their residence hall.
“I remember getting my meningitis shot before I moved into the dorms last year,” said TJC freshman Amelia McGovern. “It actually didn’t really hurt and I’m happy that now I won’t get meningitis.”
A 19-year-old TJC baseball player, Austin Phillips, died in 2005 from bacterial meningitis. This was before the vaccination was required and it is tragic stories like his that have led to the new requirements that are in place today.
“All adolescents should get the vaccination, even if they do not plan to live on campus. It’s a good precaution to take,” said Hallman.