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3/15/2017 12:14:00 PM
Indiana bill requiring college students to get shots to prevent meningitis passes

Kaitlin L. Lange, Evansville Courier & Press

College students in Indiana will likely have to add the meningitis vaccine to their list of required shots.

House Bill 1069, which appears to be headed to the governor’s desk, would attempt to ramp up protection against a life-threatening disease. Those who receive a K-12 education in Indiana are required to get the shot. This legislation would largely protect against any instances of the illness coming into the state.

According to the National Meningitis Association, between 600 and 1,000 people contract the disease each year, and 10 to 15 percent of people die as a result.

The chance for outbreaks is higher in crowded living spaces, like college dormitories.

This past fall, the University of Wisconsin reported three cases of the deadly disease, and there have been cases at other universities throughout in recent years.

“It’s not like having mumps and measles and going home for two weeks and taking care of things and going back to work,” said bill author Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler. “Ten or 15 percent of these folks, once you have an outbreak, they’re going to die.”

During committee hearings, Dr. Karla Loken, a member of the Indiana Immunization Coalition, spoke about her sister, who died at age 16 due to the disease.

“She said, ‘I don’t think I can work today mom. I have the flu.’ And 16 hours later she was dead from meningitis,” Loken said. “I have watched my parents grieve and I have grieved.”

She put the fatality rate even higher, at up to 19 percent, and mentioned a number of side affects those who have survived now live with, such as amputated limbs or hearing loss.

Bacon said he had the support of every public university on the issue, and Indiana University testified in support of the legislation.

The measure passed the Senate 33-15, in the House 93-3 and had no one testify in opposition during the committee.

Because the Indiana Senate made a minor change to the legislation in committee, the bill will have to head back to the House for approval from the author and a vote from the full house. The bill author said he will concur with the change and the full house likely follow his lead.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s press secretary said Holcomb was not weighing in on the bill at this time, and did not indicate whether he would sign it.

Even though the bill still allows for religious and medical exemptions, Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, voted against the legislation and said it can be a personal rights issue.

“But I understand the concept, too, that we don’t want diseases to spread, but there’s a push and take on this thing,” Tomes said. “Right now I think there was still questions I just had.”

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