Tragically, an Ohio university student, whose home is just a town away from mine, died last week from bacterial meningitis. The loss of a teenager to a disease is heartbreaking, particularly when there is a safe and effective meningitis vaccine available. I still remember medical school lectures where professors warned us that bacterial meningitis can kill a person in hours. They showed us slides (there was no power point back then) of the characteristic skin rash of meningitis, and admonished us never to forget it. I haven’t.
Although the CDC advises meningitis vaccination for college students living in dorms, Ohio does not require this. In fact, in Ohio only 38% of teenagers have received the meningitis vaccine, below the national average. Health experts strongly urge that all college freshman be vaccinated prior to arriving at school. An Ohio bill was introduced to mandate meningitis vaccination for college students, but it has not moved forward in the legislature. Most states, in fact, do not require meningitis vaccination for college students. We don’t need a law in order for us to do the right thing.
Vaccinations are one of the greatest triumphs of modern medicine. They prevent terrible diseases with very low risk and expense. Meningitis is a threat both here and abroad. International travelers to the ‘meningitis belt’ in Africa, for example, should discuss this vaccine with their travel doctor.
Of course, there is no law that forces international travelers, or any of us, to receive the meningitis vaccine, or other important travel vaccinations. Does there have to be?