When freshman Jose Martinez first heard that all students planning to live on campus would be required to get a meningitis shot, he was a little worried he would be punished if he didn’t get it.
“I got the meningitis shot because it was free and required,” he said. “At first, I was kind of freaking out. I thought they would kick me out of my dorm but then I found out we had some leeway.”
A new policy taking effect Jan. 1 requires all newly admitted students to prove they received the vaccine or that they opted out with a signature. Students who live on campus, however, must get the vaccine, as will students wishing to renew dorm contracts for the spring semester.
In keeping with the new policy, Student Health Services (SHS) and the Hillsborough County Health Department offered free meningitis shots to students aged 18 and under Wednesday afternoon.
The meningitis clinic took place in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom, and was part of the Vaccine for Children Program – a federal program aimed at immunizing youth against common diseases.
Dr. Egilda Terenzi, SHS director, said she spearheaded the move to publicize the vaccine policy.
“It was probably my idea to have a meningitis clinic in response to the new policy,” she said. “It is an event that spotlights the policy.”
Even though the meningitis vaccine has always been available at SHS, Terenzi said events often draw more students.
In the first hour of the clinic, hundreds of students lined up to get the shot. Because it was free for students under 19, many students getting the vaccine were freshmen.
Students over 18 had to pay $90 for the vaccine.
Terenzi said many students have likely had the vaccine before the clinic took place, as the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices recommends physicians administer the shot during school physicals, especially for students aged 11 to 18.
Yet she also feels students have paid more attention to the vaccine than before the free shots were offered.
Terenzi advises students get plenty of sleep, maintain a healthy diet, avoid smoky bars and limit their consumption of alcohol to maximize their protection against meningitis.
“Meningitis is opportunistic – it will take advantage of a lower immune system,” she said.
Most students learned about the event by e-mail. Freshman Jeong Yeon Kang attended the clinic because she lives on campus and it was free of charge to her.
“I got an e-mail that said next spring we would be required to have it. Freshmen that live on campus are at a higher risk (of getting meningitis). And it was free because I’m 18,” she said.
Many students who paid for the vaccination still believe the charge was well worth it.
“It’s an easy way to prevent a deadly disease,” said junior Vance Lamberg. “I think it’s important, and for the $90 fee, it’s worth it.”
Lamberg believes the close quarters in which resident students live make them more susceptible to meningitis. However, Terenzi warns that students living off campus aren’t less likely to contract the disease.
“Students who live off campus are at risk just as much as those on campus. Just because you live 100 meters away does not make a defining difference,” she said.
Terenzi said she’s planning another meningitis clinic for Spring 2008. She’s not sure if the clinics will be annual, however, as more students are coming to college having received the vaccine already, she said.