Meningitis law for college students could see revisions

Meningitis law for college students could see revisions

AMARILLO, TX- Students attending college this fall may be turned away yet again.

This comes following a Texas law requiring teens and young adults to show proof of having the meningitis vaccine.

Since January, colleges have argued Senate Bill 1107 has cost them thousands of dollars in lost tuition, prompting modifications to silence the backlash. However, Amarillo College along with several other community colleges across the state are saying that isn't enough.

For the Spring 2012 semester, every student under the age of 30 attending both 4-year universities and community colleges were required to have the vaccine---no exceptions.

A short while later and acting on pressure, the state began accepting waivers from students who claimed the shot was against their religion or didn't believe in the vaccine.

Colleges say that excuse saved a few students from losing their education in the spring but as the new school year approaches, schools are worried they'll be dealing with the same old problem.

The state legislature passed the vaccine law after tragedy struck two college students here in Texas.

UT Austin student Jamie Shanbaum, 19, had both her legs amputated after contracting meningitis.

A few hundred miles away at Texas A&M, NIcolis Williams, 19, lost his life.

"About 1 in 10 people die from it," Dr. Whit Walker said. "If you survive, about 1 in 10 people will have amputations."

Dr. Walker with the Texas Tech Health Science and Research Center says the virus should be taken seriously.

It's a belief shared by Gov. Rick Perry who strongly supports the bill.

However, community colleges like Amarillo College believe the state may be taking things a bit too seriously.

"It's our belief that students who are going to a community college and are not living in a dorm situation probably don't need a meningitis shot," Ellen Green with Amarillo College said.

Since Amarillo College doesn't have dorm rooms, Green feels the state law should be revised.

"It's really hurting our students ability to go to school," she said.

Dr. Walker agrees that college students living in dorms are definitely more prone to contracting the virus.

"People may share the same eating utensil," he said. "People may have more intimate contact with others and they're living in an environment with 1,000 of their best friends."

Next legislative session, lawmakers may consider revising the age at which students must be vaccinated as well as if college students not living in a dorm room should still be required to get the shot.

According to the CDC, young adults up to age 22 are most at risk of getting meningitis.

If age requirements narrowed, several older students in their mid-20's attending schools would be able to continue their education without showing proof of being vaccinated.

Amarillo College estimates between 1,000 and 3,000 students were not able to enroll or take courses last spring because of the requirement.

To help with the financial burden of getting the shot, Amarillo College and the Amarillo Department of Public Health have teamed up. They are providing waivers to allow students to get the vaccine at a discounted rate.

Depending on waivers and insurance carriers, the cost of the shot can run between $20 and $200.

The City of Amarillo says they have an ample supply of the vaccine, unlike other larger cities across the state which are seeing shortages.