Measles – a highly contagious disease once thought eradicated – is now bubbling up in California, yet Chapman University allows any student to waive vaccination requirements, even if they seek to live in the dorms.
Director of Student Health Jacqueline Deats and Information Systems Specialist Oscar Garcia refused to provide Prowl with the numbers or percentages of vaccinated or unvaccinated students.
No cases of measles have been reported at Chapman, said Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications Jamie Ceman in an April 30 press release.
The policy provokes questions as to whether waivers should be granted so casually, especially in light of the college’s requirements for incoming students to live in college dorms – sometimes several people to a room – and student resentment at being required to live on campus for their freshmen and sophomore years.
Measles was considered eradicated in 2000 according to the CDC, but it is back and on the rise.
As of May 10, there have been 839 reported cases of measles in 23 states, according to the CDC. Forty-four of those cases are in California as of May 8, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and unvaccinated and non-immune people are at risk for contracting the disease. Measles is highly contagious and characterized by a fever, cough, and rash all over the body.
“Based on some of the statistics, there are more parents who are not vaccinating their children,” said Director of Student Health Jacqueline Deats. “They’re not doing the routine CDC vaccination for MMRs (measles, mumps, and rubella).”
Childhood vaccination rates have recently increased with more than 90 percent of children in 2017 having been covered, according to the CDC. Measles erupt when pockets of unvaccinated people spread the disease in a community and when cases come into the United States, the CDC states.
But Chapman students are able to waive out of the vaccination requirement for any reason.
All University of California (UC) students are required to obtain the MMR, chickenpox, tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), and meningococcal conjugate vaccines, plus complete a tuberculosis screening, states the UC Health flyer. The California State University (CSU) system requires proof of two MMRs, and if a first-time enrollee is 18-years old or younger, the Hepatitis B vaccine is required. Institutions with on-campus housing must inform students of the meningococcal vaccines, states the CDPH.
Based on a 2015 California law, religious and personal beliefs are no longer considered exemptions for public institutions, but parents and students can bypass vaccinations through medical circumstances, according to California’s Health and Safety Code.
However, the policy of Chapman – a private university – diverges from the UC and CSU systems.
“There is a way due to religious or personal beliefs, and if they choose not to [vaccinate], there is a waiver and you have to come in and request that waiver,” Deats said.
Chapman’s vaccination confirmation process–done online upon admission–asks students to input the dates they received two doses of the MMR vaccine and a tetanus shot administered within the past 10 years, said Deats.
The Health Center confirms the dates after the student ensures the information is correct.
“We follow recommendations, but we’re not mandated by the state,” Deats said. “[Students] have the right to waive out.”
Junior strategic and corporate communications major Hanna Yorke says that she has all the required vaccines – including the measles vaccine – but was on a “delayed course” for getting them since her parents are skeptical of vaccine safety. Her beliefs echo theirs.
“Everything that was optional I opted out of [as a child], including the HPV vaccination, and I got my vaccinations very spaced out over the years,” Yorke said.
Yorke is “not at all” worried about spreading or catching measles and other vaccine-preventable disease. But she concedes it is because she has had vaccinations that she doesn’t think that she poses a large threat to others’ ability to contract deadly infections.
“When you’re in the dorms, you’re in such close quarters and proximity to others that sickness is spread so easily,” said sophomore health sciences major Laura Metraux. “I was always sick when I lived in the dorms with colds and stuff, but now with measles outbreaks I think Chapman should require it to prevent spreading.”
If a student does contract a vaccine-preventable disease, Chapman has herd immunity, said Deats.
Herd immunity is when a population prevents the spread of a disease because of the high proportion of those protected against it. However, herd immunity does not protect against all diseases and does not give a high level of individual protection, states the Vaccine Knowledge Project, an independent research institution by the University of Oxford.
“[Herd immunity is risky because what if more and more people come that aren’t vaccinated and then it spreads more? People who are immunosuppressed can be affected more by an outbreak,” Metraux said.
Water is the main ingredient in vaccines, and some added ingredients appear only in trace amounts or do not remain in the vaccine at all, according to the Vaccine Knowledge Project. Many ingredients are found naturally in the body, and “there is no scientific evidence that the low levels of [formaldehyde], mercury or aluminum in vaccines can be harmful,” states PublicHealth.org.
Common side effects include injection site reactions such as redness or swelling, a high temperature, and fatigue. However, rare cases can result in a serious allergic reaction that can be reversible, but this occurs in less than “one in a million cases,” states the National Health Service website.
The Health Center offers travel immunizations and some vaccines, but most students come in for boosters, said Deats, and there isn’t a huge demand for them. There is no visitation fee for the Health Center, but students have to pay for the cost of the vaccine they’re receiving, which ranges from $30 to $40.
Deats urges that students not only receive their MMRs and the tetanus shot, but all of the recommended vaccinations. To contact the Health Center, call (714) 997-6851.