College student immunization is a post-COVID-19 must, lives depend upon it

This op-ed by Alicia Stillman appeared in The Lansing State Journal. Read the full story here.

As COVID-19 continues to have a public health impact in our communities, we must think about proactive health changes that can protect Michiganders as we adapt to our new normal. Colleges and universities will be making adjustments as students return to campus, and one area where they can better protect their students is by making immunizations mandatory. Lives can be saved by making sure that young adults are up to date on their vaccinations before returning to campus.

This issue hits close to home for me as I lost my daughter to a vaccine-preventable disease – Meningitis B – several years ago. My daughter, Emily, was a 19-year-old college sophomore when she died just 36 hours after her first symptoms. While she had received all of the vaccines available at the time, she was still not protected. Today, there is a vaccine to protect young people from Meningitis B, but it’s not currently mandatory for students to have it to attend colleges. I have made it my mission to educate the public on vaccine-preventable diseases because I don’t want any other parents to have to experience the loss of their child from a preventable disease.

As we adjust to life in a post-COVID-19 world and look for ways to protect ourselves, it’s clear that vaccinations can be the difference between life or death. As colleges and universities in Michigan prepare for fall campus returns, I urge them to revise their vaccine requirements to protect our students and the public health by keeping these diseases and viruses at bay. To better protect students, Michigan colleges and universities should:

  • Require students to be up to date on all vaccinations to attend the institution (including MMR, meningitis ACWY and meningitis B, influenza, hepatitis B and COVID-19 once it is available).
  • Require all students to have a comprehensive, completed immunization record.
  • Create or update campus Emergency Action Plans in the event of an outbreak.

The American Academy of Pediatrics have recently estimated that immunization rates among children have fallen by 60-80 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. This spike occurred due to the reduction in doctor visits during the pandemic, not vaccine hesitancy.

These numbers are alarming and colleges and universities, as well as parents sending their students back, should be concerned. Lack of immunizations leave students and campuses vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases that threaten the public health. As colleges and universities prepare for the new normal and keep the public health more top of mind than ever, it’s time for vaccinations to be mandatory for attendance.

Ensuring that students have their vaccinations helps doctors better identify health problems that may occur, as often symptoms of meningitis, cold, flu and COVID-19 can be similar. Requiring select vaccines on campus can help take some of the guesswork out of the equation and help identify the problem quicker, which is critical since time is of the essence in many of these cases.

If we’ve learned anything during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we can’t take anything for granted, especially when it comes to health. Comprehensive immunizations policies must be an integral part of how students can safely return to campus after COVID-19. It’s time to make immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases mandatory to ensure the health and wellness of college students. Lives depend on it.

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I Vaccinate provides information and tools based on real medical science and research to help Michigan parents protect their kids. Support is provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Franny Strong Foundation.

You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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