Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU recommends students get vaccinated

State law says all new college students up to age 50 must have shots against measles, mumps and rubella. Unless, of course, they don’t want to. 

University of Denver policy says all new students up to age 50 must conform with state vaccination law. Unless, of course, they’ve said they don’t want to. 

State law seeks to protect students from transmitting or being victimized by serious illnesses. Yet that same law allows students to opt out of getting their shots on the basis of medical, religious or personal decisions. The personal exemption is for a person who is opposed to vaccines on any grounds at all. 

There are dangers for students who skip out on vaccinations, says Dr. Louise McDonald, director of University Health and Counseling

“We rely on herd immunity so that if a virus is introduced, it doesn’t go very far,” McDonald says. “The folks not immune can bring it to campus and then transmit it to others who also are not immune.” 

DU health officials say they see a handful of religious and medical exemptions and about 50 or 60 personal exemptions each year. These personal requests, which students must submit prior to their second term, usually come from students who have had their shots but can’t say when, McDonald says. 

DU officials use two weapons to keep the campus healthy: state law and the study-abroad program. 

Under state law, students who exempt themselves from the immunization law can be locked out of classes and even quarantined in the event of an outbreak. DU policy goes further, denying exempted students tuition refunds for missed time. 

As few as two cases can constitute an outbreak, which is determined by the state Department of Health and Environment. In the event of an outbreak, the state looks at students who have exempted themselves from immunization and can bar them from classes or ask them to leave campus. Those actions are rare, McDonald says, but are permitted so health officials can stifle e an outbreak as quickly as possible. 

The other weapon officials use to encourage immunizations is the study-abroad program. Participants are strongly encouraged to conform to the immunization recommendations issued for the part of the world where they plan to study, though the students are not barred from the program if they don’t. 

“That’s their responsibility,” says study abroad Director Carol Fairweather. “We do not pay for their shots.” 

Fairweather calls it “foolish” not to get the recommended inoculations and says most study-abroad students do so, even though waivers they sign leave the decision up to them. 

“A few dollars for a shot is worth it to me,” she says. “Malaria lasts forever.” 

In addition to the three state-encouraged vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, DU health officials recommend other protections. Specifically, they encourage shots against meningitis, which can erupt quickly, be fatal and targets students living in dormitories. 

“Studies show freshmen are most susceptible because they’ve never lived in a communal environment,” McDonald says.

In addition, shots are encouraged for hepatitis B, which can result in liver cancer or liver disease over time; chicken pox; polio; and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, known as whooping cough. 

What’s holding students back from getting the shots they need? Partly it’s cost, McDonald says, but mostly it’s a simpler obstacle: “fear of the needle.”  

This article originally appeared in The Source, November 2006.

Comments are closed.