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Tentative UC plan on vaccinations draws mixed reaction from students

Current vaccine requirement:
Hepatitis B

Possible new vaccine requirements by fall 2017:
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); varicella (chickenpox); meningococcal; tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap)

By Amanda Schallert

Jan. 30, 2015 2:04 p.m.

Incoming students may have to take four additional vaccines recommended by the state health department before registering at the University of California in fall 2017, according to a tentative University plan.

The change would be part of a three-year proposal to educate students about immunizations and take preventive measures against infectious diseases on college campuses, said Dr. Gina Fleming, medical director for the UC Self-Insured Health Plans.

The plan, which is in its early stages, comes in the wake of outbreaks of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and meningitis, on college campuses in recent years.

At the same time, a movement of parents who are choosing to opt out of vaccinating their children has grown nationally in recent years, said Dr. James Cherry, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

The first year of the plan would require that incoming students read a form about recommended vaccinations when registering at a campus. Starting in fall 2016, students would have the option to enter their immunization histories into their personal, private medical charts in the University’s electronic health records system, Fleming said.

If the University knows which students are not vaccinated for measles and there is an outbreak, for example, it could alert those individuals about the risk and offer them vaccinations to protect them, said Dr. David Baron, executive director of the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center, who is working on the plan.

By fall 2017, the UC is considering making it mandatory for incoming UC students to provide their immunization histories and get vaccinated before registering. The exact exemptions that will be allowed for the vaccine requirements are still unclear, and individual campuses may opt to make the vaccinations mandatory for all and not just incoming students, Fleming said.

In addition to religious and personal reasons, some parents who have their children opt out of taking vaccines do so because vaccines can lead to severe allergic reactions or other less serious side effects in a small percentage of the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, severe reactions that could lead to death or cause high fever or brain damage from the common vaccines students are recommended to take before they reach college occur in about one in a million people.

However, opting out of vaccines may put children and people an individual is in contact with at the risk of contracting a disease, the CDC warns. Cherry said he disagrees with the anti-vaccine movement because he thinks the benefits of taking vaccines far outweigh the risks.

The UC currently requires the Hepatitis B vaccination to enroll in classes and does not collect students’ immunization histories. The Hepatitis B vaccine is required by state law, but students can opt out of taking the vaccine if they have certain medical conditions or if they do not believe in taking it for religious, personal or cultural reasons. Requirements for vaccinations vary with campuses, with UCLA currently requiring only the Hepatitis B vaccine.

Both Stanford University and USC require students to have two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine before enrolling. At Yale University, undergraduate students must have the MMR, chickenpox and meningococcal vaccines and a tuberculosis skin test before arriving at the university. Princeton University requires students to have the Hepatitis B, MMR, meningococcal and Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, or Tdap, vaccines.

“The recommendations for vaccines have always been one of the pillars of public health and preventive medicine, but in the past, the cost was so great that it made it difficult to find an argument for it (at the UC),” Fleming said.

Since the UC already set up an electronic health records system about three years ago, the plan is not expected to cost as much as it would otherwise, she said. Fleming could not provide an estimate of the cost because the plan is still in its early stages, she said.

Some doctors and public health experts said they think the UC is heading in the right direction with the plan.

“Here is something that will prevent (a disease),” said Dr. Roshan Bastani, a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health who researches the HPV vaccine. “Why would you not take something like that? It’s shocking.”

Baron said it “breaks his heart” when people die of diseases that can be prevented.

“It’s hard to argue that we could let a student get a life altering disease because we didn’t have the fortitude to put our foot down,” he said.

Still, some students said they are uncomfortable with the requirement for more vaccines, saying they think it should be a personal choice.

Lauren Walker, a second-year Middle Eastern studies student, said she thinks the efficiency of the vaccines depends on who is taking them. She added that if students trust evidence that vaccines do not work, they shouldn’t be forced to take them.

Walker said she has the vaccine she needs for UCLA, but she doesn’t plan to get another one unless there is an outbreak of a new disease from another country.

Phillip Truong, a third-year psychobiology student, said he doesn’t like the idea of entering all his immunization information in his electronic health records.

“Doesn’t that invade privacy? I wouldn’t want them to know all of my extensive (immunization) medical records. I’m a very confidential person,” he said.

Others said they agree with the UC’s plan.

“Just from hearing what’s been happening at Disneyland, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, and it’s more important to be vaccinated,” said Anne Bautista, a fourth-year human biology and society student. “Ashe could help students get the vaccinations they’re missing and if they think it will help, I’ll support it.”

Much of the UC’s plan is still being hashed out and the effects the policy will have on each campus health center is unclear. Fleming said that if the requirement leads to a spike in the number of students going to campus health centers for vaccinations, the UC will have to prepare for it.

The University is still determining whether the regents will vote on this policy, said UC spokeswoman Shelly Meron in an email. For now, student health directors and vice chancellors of student affairs at UC campuses are overseeing the process along with the the senior vice president of health sciences at the UC Office of the President, she said.

Contributing reports by Melyssa Cruz, Bruin contributor.


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