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USF tightens vaccine rules
New students on campus must have bacterial meningitis shots by January.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VANSICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 28, 2007
Rachel Futterman's death prompted new rules.
TAMPA - It's official: Starting in January, any University of South Florida student who moves into campus residence halls or Greek housing must be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, the disease that killed a USF sophomore earlier this year.
And off-campus students will have to be vaccinated or sign an opt-out form if they want to attend classes on any of USF's campuses - a strict requirement that other Florida colleges have pondered but so far hesitated to implement.
USF president Judy Genshaft notified Tampa campus students of the new residence hall policy in a letter mailed over the Thanksgiving break. Administrators on the St. Petersburg campus went door to door in the residence hall about a month ago to inform students of the new policy.
Genshaft demanded the university tighten its vaccine requirements and enforcement in the wake of Rachel Futterman's September death.
"Together we can make decisions to avoid another such tragedy," Genshaft wrote to students. "Your wellness is our primary concern."
USF students who already have housing contracts through the spring are exempt for now, but will have to get the vaccine before signing any new contract to live on campus in Tampa or St. Petersburg.
Today in the Marshall Center ballroom, USF will offer the vaccine free to any students under 19, or for $90 to older students. Health officials are prepared to dole out 1,000 doses and will schedule additional clinics if demand is high enough, said Dr. Egilda Terenzi, director of student health services.
USF St. Petersburg students can go to the Tampa campus, or they can make an appointment with a private physician the university has contracted with in downtown St. Petersburg.
USF spokesman Ken Gullette said university officials will consider religious and medical exemptions for campus residents on a "case by case basis," but Genshaft's intent is that every student living in dorms or Greek houses protect themselves by getting the vaccine.
"We're talking very, very few people will be exempted from this," said Tom Kane, USF's director of residence services.
The mandatory vaccine rule will affect more students in coming years, because USF is poised to require that students from outside Tampa Bay live on campus their freshman year. The change would bring an additional 500 students to the Tampa campus, which now houses 4,400. The living requirement would start in fall 2009, when a new 1,000-bed dorm is scheduled to open.
As they prepare to house all those new students, administrators vow they'll be more vigilant in enforcing the new vaccine rules. After Futterman died, housing officials conceded they were letting students move into dorms without completing paperwork for the vaccine - even though a 5-year-old state law requires it.
Futterman did fill out her paperwork, though medical privacy laws prevent USF administrators from revealing whether she got the vaccine or opted out.
State allows waivers
State law requires colleges to tell new students about the risks associated with bacterial meningitis and the availability of vaccines. Students who live on campus must provide documentation of vaccinations unless they are 18 or older, in which case they can sign a waiver opting out of immunization.
Bacterial meningitis is a rare but potentially deadly infection that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. The symptoms are severe and progress rapidly.
Futterman, a 19-year-old member of the Delta Gamma sorority, died less than five days after she first reported feeling ill.
The disease is spread by direct contact with infected individuals. The social interactions of college students - particularly those living together in dorms, Greek houses or even off-campus apartments - put them at higher risk than the general population.
Each year, about 2,600 people get bacterial meningitis, and 100 to 125 of those cases occur on college campuses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine protects against the strains of the disease that cause most cases among college students. The shot is also available at Hillsborough and Pinellas County health centers.
Kane said he wishes the Board of Governors that oversees Florida universities would make the vaccine mandatory for all students - including those who live off campus in apartments with other students, in dormlike situations.
"We have 30,000 who live off campus, and probably 10,000 of those live within 2 miles of campus in four-bedroom apartments," he said. "It becomes a student health issue."
Times staff writer Donna Winchester contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3403.
Tampa: Noon to 4 p.m. today in the Marshall Center ballroom on USF's Tampa campus, students can get the meningitis vaccine. The shot is free for students 18 and under, and $90 for students over 19.
St. Petersburg: USF St. Petersburg students can go to the Marshall Center, or they can make an appointment with a private physician close to campus by calling (727) 823-1111. They also can call the Pinellas Health Department, (727) 824-6900.
Information: Visit the Student Health Services meningitis clinic Web site at www.shs.usf.edu/MeningitisClinic.html.