On college and university campuses across the country, this is one of the most exciting times of year. As the graduates of 2015 celebrate receiving their degrees, preparations are already underway for the incoming class of 2019.
At the same time, leaders at colleges and universities are dealing with a new reality on their campuses—the uptick in outbreaks of contagious diseases like meningitis on campus–and many are taking action to help preserve the public health of their communities.
As a former college president, I have a unique understanding of the challenge and critical nature of protecting the public health of these institutions.
As a father who lost a son to meningitis several years ago, I sadly understand far too well the lethal way this disease can spread and take lives.
Nine years ago, my wife and I lost our 26 year-old son Isaac to meningitis. He awoke one morning with a headache—and by late that same afternoon, he was dead.
Meningitis takes the lives of too many in this country. This year alone, we’ve seen the disease sicken kids at schools from east coast to west. Cases were diagnosed at Yale University, Providence College, Marquette University and most notably at the University of Oregon, where six were stricken, and we lost one student to the disease.
Meningitis is a bacterial illness contracted by as many as 1,000 people in the U.S, each year.
Ten to fifteen percent of those who contract the disease will die, like my son. Even when promptly treated as many as 20 percent of those infected suffer serious consequences like the loss of limbs, damage to the nervous system, deafness, brain damage and seizures and strokes.
Meningitis is complicated. There are currently five known strains of the disease. Until recently, vaccines to treat four of the five strains of the disease had been available. In the last year, two new vaccines were approved by the FDA to combat the fifth strain. This fifth strain has been responsible for many of the recent college outbreaks.
But approval by the FDA doesn’t mean that our college kids automatically have access to this new immunization.
The Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP), a division of the Centers for Disease Control is the body that makes recommendations as to what vaccines should be required by state health departments and covered by insurance plans.
College and university presidents and their senior staff have taken notice of these outbreaks, and are urging ACIP to adopt a wide recommendation for college aged kids to be vaccinated.
There should be no delay. ACIP meets in just a few weeks. Healthcare providers, and vaccine advocates like myself join the college leaders in the plea to ACIP members to recommend adding this new vaccine to the vaccination schedule immediately.
Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements of our time. They save lives. As diseases continue to evolve, so does the science to fight them. At the time of my son’s death, there was little we could do to fight the disease. We have a chance to change that for other families, a chance to keep them from suffering the most heartbreaking of losses.
Neal Raisman is the former President of Rockland Community College and Onondaga Community College, both in New York. He is a nationally known consultant on student retention and relations issues for colleges and universities across the country. He serves as a meningitis ambassador for the Global Healthy Living Foundation www.ghlf.org
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