Before 19-year-old Rachel Futterman’s tragic death Monday, nearly half of the students living on campus – 1,700 out of 4,400 – failed to provide USF with the vaccination forms proving that they were either protected against Hepatitis B and meningitis or that they knowingly opted out of both vaccines.
Florida law requires students complete these forms if they wish to live on campus, meaning USF broke the law by failing to enforce it.
President Genshaft’s personal goal is to have all students vaccinated against meningitis, either by January or the Fall 2008 semester, unless students meet an exemption.
USF officials attributed the missing forms to laxness, saying that non-complying students would at times slip through the cracks. They also admitted that follow-up on non-compliers
Now, administrators say the University is cracking down on non-compliers, and is scrambling to have updated information turned in to Student Health Services by Friday.
The University’s sudden, swift push for vaccination enforcement and advocacy of the meningitis vaccine are both praiseworthy moves, but it’s too bad that it took an untimely death – and press coverage of it – to get the Administration to do its job.
Compliance, though clearly a legal – as well as public health – problem, can also be deceiving because it doesn’t guarantee safety. According to USF spokesman Kenneth Gullette, Futterman was a complying student. This means that she signed a form stating she was aware of the meningitis and hepatitis B vaccines or proving that she
Because medical records are not subject to public records laws, one cannot definitively say Futterman didn’t have the vaccine, but it’s likely she didn’t. The only strain the vaccine does not protect against is increasingly rare.
A meningitis vaccine with few side effects is readily available, and there is no reason why a student thoroughly versed in the risks of the disease would opt out. Instead of just forcing a student to get the vaccine or opt out, USF should require students take a brief online course on diseases like meningitis. Students could be required to sign in to the course with their USF IDs, so that non-compliance, monitored electronically, could be enforced strictly. And non-compliers could be punished harshly, for example, by being barred from
By bringing the issues of immunization and health to students’ minds in this way, better care for their bodies will likely follow.