BOG postpones, USF pushes new vaccine policy

Four days after being visibly shaken at memorial service for Rachel Futterman,

USF President Judy Genshaft sat before the governing body for state universities Thursday.

This time she was more composed, but her message was the same.

Losing a student to a disease that has a working vaccination is devastating.

“To lose a student to something that could have been prevented by a vaccination – it’s just heart-breaking,” said Genshaft. “The University of South Florida will not have our students in a residence hall without a vaccination. We just have to.”

After hearing testimony from Genshaft and health officials from universities across the state Thursday, Florida’s governing board for higher education decided to hold off on a decision that would require meningitis vaccinations for all incoming freshmen in the State University System’s (SUS) 11 public universities.

USF officials said Thursday’s outcome won’t slow their plans to make the vaccination mandatory for all students living on campus, as well as incoming freshmen.

“We are not prepared to wait around until December for a decision,” Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said after the board meeting Thursday. “In this day and age there is absolutely no reason why a student shouldn’t be vaccinated.”

Earlier in the week, USF spokesman Ken Gullette said USF wanted all on-campus residents to have the vaccine by the spring semester and if legally permissible, would bar any students without the vaccine from University residence halls.

“We see living on campus as a privilege, not a right,” Gullette said.

After Futterman’s sudden death Monday from bacterial meningitis, Florida’s Board of Governors (BOG) quickly added discussion about requiring the vaccine for all freshmen to their agenda.

Other than making meningitis vaccinations mandatory for incoming freshmen, the proposal considered by the board would also have established a taskforce to cut down on the number of vaccination exemptions colleges grant to students. It also required all 11 state universities to record any vaccinations administered by student health centers in the state’s medical database.

The sticking point for the BOG was whether older students, who have a much lower likelihood of contracting the disease, should be forced to have the vaccination, said BOG spokesman Bill Edmonds.

The board will pick up the issue again in their December meeting at the University of Central Florida.

Even with BOG approval, any change to existing Florida law on vaccinations for university students would require the legislature’s approval.

In other business:

The BOG approved statewide tuition increase of 5 percent beginning next semester.

A similar tuition hike – which would cost students an additional $3.68 per credit hour – was approved by the State Legislature, but vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist last year.

The BOG has since filed suit in state court claiming its constitutional power to set tuition rates as the State University System’s governing body.

The State House of Representatives recently supported a tuition increase but the Senate has yet to hear the proposal.

Reporting from Joshua Neiderer contributed to this report. David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or oracleguidi@gmail.com.

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