MU’s policy on meningitis vaccine allows for waiver

Thursday, August 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:03 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MU sophomore Meghan Lahey got her $70 meningococcal vaccine Tuesday afternoon under the impression that failing to comply with a new vaccine policy would prevent her from registering for the winter 2005 semester.

“I don’t like the policy,” Lahey said. “I felt like I was forced to get the vaccine.”

That is far from the case, said Susan Even, director of MU’s Student Health Center. Lahey, 19, and 1,553 other MU students who were vaccinated this summer could have enrolled successfully without the shots had they submitted a waiver stating they didn’t want the vaccine, Even said.

However, the additional 5,000 students living in MU residence halls must have the waiver or proof of vaccination in order to register for the winter 2005 semester. The immunization policy took effect this fall following the passage of a state law last year requiring university students living on campus to get the vaccine — or refuse it with full understanding of the disease and its risks.

Meningitis affects the brain and spinal cord, with early symptoms similar to the flu. Negligence in treatment may result in death, brain damage or amputation, according to the MU Student Health Center.

Even said the policy was targeted at students living in dormitories because they are at greater risk of contracting meningitis than students living off-campus. Even said the potentially deadly disease can be transmitted through the air or through direct contact with infected patients.

Lahey, who lives in MU’s Johnston Hall, said she made an appointment to get the vaccine after receiving letters from the school during the summer notifying her about the vaccine requirement. She said she didn’t find out about the option to sign a waiver until after she arrived on campus last week.

The health center gave out more than 1,550 vaccinations during Summer Welcome in June and July, an 83 percent increase over the past year. The cost for the vaccination is not covered by MU’s student health insurance.

“If students feel they cannot afford it, they can choose not to receive the shots,” said Nono Jost, service representative at the Student Health Center.

Even said she did not think the text of the immunization requirement was misleading. She said some students may have misinterpreted a story published last week in a Kansas City newspaper.

The center expects more students to receive the vaccination when Maxim, an outside health care company, offers an all-day immunization clinic on Sept. 16 near Hitt Street Market. Walk-in patients may get shots for $90. Jost said the health center has been busy with appointments for vaccinations and tuberculosis screenings. She said the center handled 454 patients last week.

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