Meningitis vaccination requirement causes problems in our area

Amarillo, TX - Hundreds of area students were denied enrollment into college this semester and hundreds more could be placed in a similar situation.

The meningitis vaccination is causing students to put a hold on their education.

Most colleges and universities in Texas have entered their twelfth class day and numbers show that dozens of them have experienced a decrease in enrollment numbers, including Amarillo College and West Texas A&M.

Last spring, Amarillo College had the highest head count enrollment in the history of the college.

This year, they aren't having the same luck.

"We knew we were going to take a hit in enrollment. We're down about five-percent from where we were this time last year," says Bob Austin, Amarillo College.

Right now there are around 2400 students attending Amarillo College.

Nearly six-hundred students applied but were then denied enrollment because they did not have the meningitis vaccine, which as of last month is now a state requirement.

"We've had people who have said, yea we decided not to attend because we just can't afford it this semester since I didn't plan for that," says Bob Austin, Amarillo College.

The economic impact of students denied college entrance to Amarillo College has yet to be seen.

Officials with Amarillo College say they anticipated a decrease due to the new law.

In preparation, they set a portion of their budget aside to help offset the lower enrollment.

As of right now, they say nothing substantial will be affected at the school.

If this problem continues in future semesters, they will have to reevaluate their entire budget.

West Texas A&M is experiencing the same problem, just not as bad.

They tell us there has been a one-percent drop in students but say it cannot be attributed to one specific reason.

What they do know, is that the new vaccination law did play a part in the decrease.

The law took effect in January in the state of Texas.

It was passed by the state legislature last summer to protect students, after two Texas college students at the University of Texas and Texas A&M developed meningitis infections.

In year's past, only students living on college campuses had to get the vaccination but the new law requires all incoming and transfer college students under the age of 30 in Texas be vaccinated ten days before the start of classes, or risk not being able to attend class.

There's a good reason for all those precautions.

Meningitis is a dangerous bacterial infection that can result in brain damage or even death, even if it's treated.

High school students need to be prepared.

"At the city health department for five-dollars, they told us about that at school so that's where I'm going to go get mine," says Kristen Collins, senior at Caprock High School.

Kristen Collins is one of the lucky high school students who was already informed about where to get the vaccine before entering college.

Other students weren't so lucky and ended up paying a higher cost or couldn't enroll in college this semester.

"I don't think it's affordable for some students. You know, there's just a whole bunch of things we have to pay for such as books. Most of the things are getting paid for but at the same time, you have other expenses that you need to buy," says Kristen Collins, senior at Caprock High School.

New students are required to get the vaccination before the first class day.

Colleges in our area are now taking several measures to make sure this enrollment decrease doesn't become a bigger problem.

Amarillo College says they are doing what they can to make sure students enroll in the upcoming semesters, by making vaccines affordable and available.

"We want to work more closely with the city health department and to see if we can find a way to get more vaccines at the discount rate for the community. I know there's still a supply and demand issue in the state of Texas. We're open to hosting vaccination clinics here on our campus or at another location in the community," Bob Austin, Amarillo College.

West Texas A&M says they can offer students online classes if they are unable to get the vaccination right away.

The city is working to make this all possible.

"We're always happy to work with our partners. Our vaccine is provided by the state and I don't know what the future holds but we're always happy to work with our partners," says Casie Stoughton, Department of Public Health.

The city's public health department is offering the shot for only five-dollars until February 15th.

No insurance is needed.

Most other pharmacies offer the vaccine for over a hundred dollars.

West Texas A&M gives the shot but again the cost is significantly more at around 90 to 95 dollars.