Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association


Updates, opinion pieces, and news related to the department

Guest Post: Scared Straight into an Online Degree Program: Fears and Phobia Surrounding Vaccinations in College

This is a guest post by Meika Jensen (**********************************************************************************













Many colleges are implementing a rule that all students must be vaccinated for a specific list of diseases before they are allowed to enter dorms and student housing. Diseases that spread quickly in communal living circumstances, such as bacterial meningitis, are of particular concern. While many college students have run the gauntlet of required vaccinations, such as the TDAP vaccine which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, most would not have received vaccinations against diseases that are commonly spread in close social contact such as meningitis, tuberculosis (TB) and human papillomavirus (HPV).

A number of states in the U.S. are passing laws to make these vaccines compulsory. In other words, a college student will not be allowed on campus if they do not receive the vaccine. Even adult or postgraduate students would be forced to get their Masters degrees online for refusing a vaccine, despite the fact that they are mature and autonomous adults. Authorities argue that college students are particularly susceptible because students come from such a wide range of locations and share close living space. They point out that not only are these diseases potentially severely debilitating, but as with a case of meningitis, they can be fatal. Bacterial infections are very easily spread through coughing, sneezing, sharing utensils or drinks, kissing and other interpersonal contact - all common occurrences among college students. These diseases hit and spread quickly and have deadly consequences. Authorities take the perspective that these diseases are all preventable through immunization, and since they are quite common among the college student population, immunization should be obligatory. Many states are passing laws accordingly. There is resistance, however. The perceived invincibility of youth is one factor. Many young people believe they will never catch the disease, and if they do, will be able to successfully fight it off. This is particularly true with vaccines such as seasonal flu. Students believe that foregoing the vaccine is no different than engaging in other risky behaviors. Many have turned the whole concept into a challenge and a bit of a joke. They think the media has blown the issue out of proportion and that there is no real threat to justify mass vaccinations for things like the flu. These students simply do not see the need for the vaccine and they resist accordingly.

Others resist vaccines for more complex reasons. With vaccinations like the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) or tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TDAP), there is a sense that these diseases have been largely eradicated and are not a real threat anymore. Authorities express the concern that this attitude may lead to a resurgence in incidences of these diseases.

Students may resist because their parents don't support vaccination, or for religious reasons. In some cases there are medical reasons why a student refuses vaccines. There is a fairly powerful movement against immunizations, which claims that vaccinations cause serious and undesirable side effects and are potentially responsible for a whole host of issues like sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and autism. Some use human rights concepts to argue that no student should be denied admittance to college because they have not been vaccinated. Many state laws do take these factors into account and allow for some exemptions.

This presents states and colleges with a dilemma. Do they legislate vaccinations, and refuse admittance to any who refuse them? How do they respect the needs of individual students with legitimate concerns about vaccinations, while balancing these with the need to maintain an acceptable level of risk to public health on campus? The questions continue to be debated, with most colleges still struggling to find an acceptable compromise.