11/16/2004

Contact: Todd Cohen, University Relations, (785) 864-8858

KU to require meningitis vaccinations for students in university group housing

LAWRENCE -- Citing the increased risk for college students in group housing to contract the potentially fatal disease meningitis, the University of Kansas has announced that, starting next fall, all students living in university-owned group student housing will be required to receive a meningitis vaccine.

KU joins 11 states, including Oklahoma, that mandate a meningitis vaccine for students living in university housing. Up to 80 percent of meningitis cases are preventable with vaccine.

“ We have all witnessed the tragedies meningitis has caused on college campuses, including our own. The danger is real,” said Chancellor Robert Hemenway. “What is clear now is that mass immunizations, instead of relying on voluntary immunizations for some but not all, is the most effective course to take to help protect students. There is a cost for the immunizations, but it pales in comparison to the financial and human costs inflicted by this disease, should even one person contract it.”

Starting Aug. 1, 2005, students living in a KU residence hall or scholarship hall or the Jayhawker Towers apartment complex must either receive the vaccination from Student Health Services; provide written documentation of immunization from another provider; or sign a waiver to indicate they have been informed about the disease and vaccine and have chosen not to be immunized.

The university also is strongly encouraging all students, particularly those in other group living situations -- including private residence halls, fraternities and sororities, shared homes and apartments -- to receive the vaccine.

The entire university community needs to be knowledgeable about meningitis and its symptoms in order to reduce the risk, said Kathryn Nemeth Tuttle, associate vice provost for Student Success, the KU organization that includes student health services.

“ The health and well-being of our students is of paramount concern,” Tuttle said. “The vaccine is not a guarantee, but it will decrease the risk of contracting some forms of meningitis."

Meningococcal meningitis is a severe bacterial infection of the bloodstream and lining of the brain and spinal cord and can result in permanent brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, limb amputation and kidney failure. Every year about 125 college students contract meningitis, and five to 15 die, according to the American College Health Association.

Meningitis typically occurs as a single isolated event, but clusters of cases are possible. In 2001 a Journal of American Medical Association study found that freshmen living in residence halls are six times as likely as other students to contract the disease.

Thirty-two states have enacted laws requiring meningitis vaccination or education for students since 2000. Eleven states mandate vaccination while 21 states, including Missouri, require that students receive meningitis education or sign responses indicating whether the students have been immunized. A bill requiring college student vaccination was introduced in Congress in May.

KU has encouraged students to get vaccinated by sending a letter to their homes after they've been accepted. Health professionals also make presentations and offer on-site vaccinations at all new-student orientation sessions held every summer on campus. In the past year, statements strongly encouraging vaccination have been added to student housing contracts and sent to all students via email.

More than 1,000 students have received the vaccine at the student health center since July 1. More than 4,800 students live in the student housing facilities affected by this policy.

The vaccination will be available through Student Health Services and at new-student orientation each summer. The cost of the Menomune vaccine, which provides protection for four to five years, is about $75. A new vaccine, which provides a longer period of protection, is expected to be available in 2005. The cost is unknown but likely higher than the Menomune. Payment plans will be available upon request once the fall semester starts.

Students who do not comply with the policy will be placed on administrative hold after the first week of classes and remain on administrative hold until compliance with the policy is confirmed.

KU already requires all students to have a documented MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and German measles.

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