First-time college students in Texas -- regardless of whether they live on or off campus -- would be required to be vaccinated against meningitis before starting school under a bill filed Thursday.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who filed the bill, said it would expand on a law that took effect in January and requires students living on campus to be vaccinated against meningitis.
Students would have to show that they have had the vaccine within the last five years, Davis said.
"When you apply to college, you have to show you've had your other vaccines," she said. "This just adds one more."
Davis joins lawmakers in the House who have proposed similar legislation after last month's death of Texas A&M student Nicolis Williams. Williams, who did not live on campus, was diagnosed with meningitis and died within five days of developing flu-like symptoms.
The bill is in line with the latest recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel. They call for a booster dose of the meningitis vaccine at age 16 in addition to a required dose at age 11.
The recommendations are designed to protect the age group with the highest incidence of the disease, said Anna Dragsbaek, executive director of the nonprofit Immunization Partnership.
"From 17 to 21, the incidence of meningococcal diseases peaks in all populations, not just college students," she said. "The adjusted recommendations are designed to target that age range."
Meningococcal disease kills 1 in 7 adolescents and young adults who become infected, according to the National Meningitis Association. About 20 percent of those who survive have long-term side effects including brain damage, kidney disease and limb amputations.
"Meningitis is a very dangerous disease, and while it is not very common, when it strikes it can be deadly," Dragsbaek said. "Someone can be healthy today and dead tomorrow."
But opponents say the state has no business making the vaccination mandatory.
"We're talking about adults in college being told by the state that you can't go to school without this," said Dawn Richardson, president of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education. "College students are adults, and we feel that they can make their own decisions and weigh the risks and benefits themselves."
The disease is rare, she said, but the vaccine has side effects and is costly.
"Really and truly we're talking about 15 deaths per year in the U.S.," she said. "And we're talking about expanding the mandate to vaccinate thousands and thousands of people in Texas."
The recommendations are based on research showing that occurrences of meningitis in that age group are not limited to those who live in dorms, Dragsbaek said. And even if the disease is rare, it is devastating, she said.
"The meningitis legislation will save the lives of people who will never even know it saved their life because it is about prevention," she said.
Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664