USF plans changes to vaccine policy
In residence halls across campus, signs have been taped and hung to entry and exit doors for stairways and elevators.
The message is simple.
“If you have not signed your Hepatitis B and Meningitis form, your RA (Resident Assistant) will be contacting you … failure to comply will result in your (access) card being disabled.”
In the aftermath of the death of Rachel Futterman, the 19-year-old Delta Gamma sorority sister who died suddenly of meningitis Monday, a scramble has begun to bring 1,700 on-campus residents in compliance with state laws mandating they turn in a form stating they’ve received or declined a vaccination for Hepatitis B and meningitis.
Before Futterman’s death, the University had lost track of them. By the end of Friday, more than half of those 1,700 students had their forms in, said Director of Residence Services Tom Kane.
“We expect to have 95 percent of them in by the end of tomorrow,” said Kane. “If students don’t find us, we will find them.”
The shockwaves from Futterman’s death have echoed beyond campus residence halls and into the corridors of the USF administration and the governing board of the state’s higher education system, which are both proposing an expansion of the pool of students required to have the vaccine and shrinking the amount of wiggle room for those seeking an exemption.
President Judy Genshaft and other University administrators want the meningitis vaccination to be required for all incoming USF students – not just those in the residence halls – by the fall of 2008. The University is also pushing to require vaccinations for all students who live on campus – no exceptions, said USF spokesman Ken Gullette.
“We don’t want this to ever happen again,” Gullette said.
The body that oversees state higher education, the Board of Governors, will hear proposals today to extend the requirement to all schools in the state.
The University of Florida and Florida State University are the only two state colleges that currently require the vaccine for all incoming students.
Since an e-mail for Student Affairs Vice President Jennifer Meningall informed students of Futterman’s infection on Saturday, more than 500 students have flocked to Student Health Services to get the vaccine, said Director of Student Health Services Egilda Terenzi.
The on-campus clinic briefly ran out the vaccine around 11 a.m. Wedensday as they waited for their third order of 200 vaccine shots. A shipment of 400 more will come today,
“Before this happened, we had sixteen,” she said.
Ivonne Molliner, a freshman majoring in psychology, was one of many who came for the shot to ease her mind. She said she felt fine.
“I’m not sure if I’ve even had the shot,” she said. “I wanted to check to be safe.”
The vaccine protects against four of the five strains of meningitis and has mild side effects, Terenzi said.
It’s not clear whether a stricter University policy would have prevented Futterman’s death.
Her health records cannot be released for privacy reasons, said Gullette.
He did say she was in compliance with the state law requiring students to either get the shot or decline it in writing.
But 1,700 of 4,400 students in on-campus housing at USF weren’t as of Monday.
“It’s one of those times when I say mea culpa,” Kane said. “We made a mistake.”
The Meningitis and Hepatitis B vaccination form required by state law goes out to all students with their room assignments before the fall semester begins, Kane said.
USF’s form is less comprehensive than the material sent out by UF and FSU, which attach additional information about Hepatitis B and Meningitis.
“That’s one of the things we’ve never really liked about (our form),” said Kane. “It doesn’t encourage you to get the shot.”
Adding more information to the form is one of several changes that may be part of beefing up the University’s vaccination policy, Kane said.
Whether those policies will require students to medically document meningitis vaccinations has not been decided, said Gullette.
USF students are not currently required to show medical documentation of meningitis vaccinations, even if they claim on the form they have
Gullette also said requiring all incoming students who live on campus to have a vaccination may have some legal pitfalls.
“We are still trying to work it out,” he said.
Assistant General Counsel Jody Adamchak said that even a stricter policy would still include some exemptions for religious reasons.
“The question is whether the University can implement a more stringent policy than the one in the state statutes,” Adamchak said.
The state statutes do not require a reason for students to decline the shot, just that they do so in writing.
Assistant Dean of Students for Greek Life Megan Vadnais had a hard time describing what it was like Tuesday at Futterman’s funeral in Jacksonville.
About 700 people came, including two charter buses full of Delta Gamma sorority
Futterman’s little brother, as well as her best friend and roommate, Amber Powers, spoke, Vadnais said.
“It really brought the tragedy home to me,” she said. “It was extremely difficult to see her family and friends in such a state of shock … If there’s something we can do to educate and inform and prevent this from happening again, we should do it.”
Reporting from Anna Peters contributed to this report. David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or