FAQ: Why Do We Have to Provide Proof of Immunizations to the University?

Posted: October 21, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

This frequently asked questions column appears in the Daily Gazette every Monday. All questions originate from the green comment boxes located throughout the university, or are items brought to the attention of the Quality of Work Life Committee. Answers are supplied by the appropriate academic unit, department, or office. One question is answered per week.

Q: Why do we have to provide proof of immunizations to the university?

A: Control of infectious diseases is a public health issue. Immunizations are readily available for such common infectious illnesses as influenza (flu), pneumococcal disease, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), and varicella (chickenpox). Some of these illnesses, once contracted, do not have a cure and all of them may cause tremendous health problems and even death. For example, 40 to 50 cases of tetanus occur each year, resulting in approximately five deaths annually in the United States. Students usually live and work in a closed environment that can facilitate the spread of disease. Thus, most college and university health professionals have implemented pre-matriculation immunization requirements mandating incoming students to provide documentation of immunization against, or immunity to, vaccine-preventable diseases.

The costs of controlling vaccine-preventable disease at a university include an enormous outlay of school and public health resources that strain the public health system and disrupt college life. For example, a 1995 measles outbreak at a university in the state of Washington resulted in a total cost of more than $300,000 to the university and the state and county health departments, not including more than 850 volunteer hours donated by students, faculty, and staff. Vaccines are among the safest medicines available: some common side effects are a sore arm or low fever. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting a vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with the diseases that these vaccines prevent are much greater than the potential risks associated with the vaccines themselves. Enforcement of pre-matriculation immunization requirements has become the cornerstone of disease prevention for colleges and universities.–Mary Ann Braun, Health and Wellness Center director, (703) 993-2832, mbraun1@gmu.edu.

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