Oregon generally reserves restrictions on school attendance to failure to be vaccinated against diseases that put others at risk, said Paul Cieslak, manager of Oregon Public Health’s Acute & Communicable Disease program. “People can get it [the vaccine] if they want it and the disease rate is declining.”
But Jan Caliman of southwest Washington described the vote as “disappointing.” In 2003, Caliman’s daughter was a 19-year-old single mom studying to be a nurse when she went to the emergency room with a fever and headache, was diagnosed with the flu and released. Spots on her face and a high fever prompted a return to ER, where she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and died that night.
Several parents during public testimony during a meeting of the Immunization School/Children’s Facility/College Law Advisory Committee told similar, sometimes tearful stories of the deaths of their children.
The licensing of new vaccines and an outbreak at the University of Oregon prompted the committee to revisit the issue, said Aaron Dunn, immunization program manager for the Public Health Division.
Meningococcal disease can be spread from person to person, usually through spit, often by kissing or sharing drinks. Many people carry the bacteria in their noses and throats without getting meningococcal disease. Since so many people carry the bacteria, most cases of meningococcal disease appear to be random and aren't linked to other cases.
Although anyone can get meningococcal disease, adolescents are at an increased risk, especially those living in close quarters in dorms, summer camps and the like. The vaccines help prevent two of the three most common disease-causing strains.
But the vaccines are expensive. The 2-3 doses recommended to treat the type of outbreak at the University of Oregon costs $300 per person and won’t be covered by most insurance until next June.
Another vaccine for a more common form of meningococcal disease costs $83 for a single dose and is covered by most insurance, although immunity wanes after a few years and requires a second dose. That one is recommended to be administered at age 11 or 12, with a booster dose at 16.
“A lot of parents even with insurance wouldn’t be able to pay for this vaccine,” said Karyn Walker, a committee member representing local health department immunizations coordinators from Linn County.
Local health departments cannot turn away a person needing a school-required vaccine because of that person’s inability to pay so local health departments would likely eat the costs of vaccinations.
But outbreaks are expensive too. Booster shots of the vaccines recently approved by the FDA continue for UO, Lane Community College and other Eugene-area students with 14,000 doses given initially
Jan can be reached at [email protected].