Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Wave the Waivers

BC students beware. Very dangerous people live among us. They are in your lecture halls, sitting in the cramped seat next to you in Devlin 008, and breathing germs into your space. They are in your communal bathrooms in Gonzaga, maybe even accidentally brushing up against the toothbrush you leave in your shelf space. They could be your roommates. They are all around us: the unvaccinated.

Just in time for the beginning of midterms, students across campus are feeling the nastier effects of dorm living and succumbing to the biannual BC plague—a potent medley of mononucleosis, flu, and all types of stomach bugs. Wouldn’t it just be the icing on the cake to find out meningitis is in the mix?

Well, eat up and enjoy, because with Massachusetts’ vaccination policy, your sniffling floormate could very well be harboring a meningococcal bacterial colony.

Before you panic, let me be clear and say that BC and Massachusetts college students in general are required to get some vaccinations; you would certainly have to break the BC bubble and go off campus to get measles (Washington State should suffice). While Massachusetts law requires all BC students to show proof of receiving the MMR, Tdap, and Hepatitis B vaccines, there is a surprising exception for meningitis.

Students (or their parents, if they are under 18) can avoid the requirement for the meningococcal vaccine if they can prove they have a medical condition that prevents them from receiving the shot, if it is “against his/her sincere religious beliefs,” or if they read and sign a waiver stating the dangers of meningitis.

It would probably take more time to read a WebMD page on meningitis than it would to read the waiver, although the document is accurate. If someone were to take the time to read the waiver—and I have a gut feeling that anyone seeking a nonmedical exemption from the meningitis vaccine most certainly wouldn’t—-they would learn fun facts such as 10-15% of those infected die even with swift antibiotic treatment. Or maybe they would find 11-19% of those who do survive do so without arms, legs, hearing, or functional nervous systems. You would learn it is especially common in people living in close proximity, like in a college dorm, and that it’s contagious through saliva.

And then, if you were an anti-vaxxer, you would sign the waiver and still be allowed to go to college in Massachusetts.

The waiver policy is made all the more bizarre by the fact that no similar exemption rule was mentioned on the BC Health Services website for the vaccine for varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox. While certainly a more common and contagious disease, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume most people would be happier getting chicken pox than bacterial meningitis.

When confronted with the dilemma “would you rather have an itchy rash or brain inflammation," lawmakers inexplicably chose the latter as something they could be more flexible with.

This is a state policy, not specifically a Boston College one, so your friends at UMass are at risk for the impending outbreak, too. Most people with logic and reasoning skills received, or had their children receive, some form of the quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (usually Menactra or Menveo) at around 12 years old with a possible booster shot as an older teenager, so they’re safe from the danger.

If you have a medical condition that prevented you from getting the vaccine or you’re immunocompromised, however, you may want to start keeping your toothbrushes in a locked safe. Evidently, Massachusetts thinks Johnny No-Vax’s right to believe in science-fiction is more important than your right to safety.

I find it a little strange that people opposed to getting the meningitis vaccine only have to read an outline of the potential risk, which is somehow enough to prove they understand and can be allowed to move forward.

Surely anyone who reads that 10 to 15 out of every 100 people who get the disease die—and that the best way to prevent this is through a vaccine—and then chooses not to get the vaccine is missing a crucial element of judgement. If medical professionals, society, and even the person signing the waiver all know that someone is putting lives at risk by going to college unvaccinated, it is inexcusable to allow that person to do so for no legitimate medical reason.

We don’t let people drive drunk—not only because it puts themselves at risk but also because it could potentially harm others. This waiver is the equivalent of making someone with a blood alcohol content of 0.24 watch a PSA about the dangers of drunk driving but then letting them grab a beer and their keys and speed off down the highway.

It is unbelievable that I find myself writing a survival guide for how to avoid meningitis because members of Congress can’t write a law mandating people be vaccinated for it. No one should have the power to sign his or her name once on a single line of paper and be legally allowed to carry a deadly weapon he or she cannot control. But that’s what meningitis can be, and that’s what this policy does.

As long as the law stays the same, remember to not share drinks or lipstick, to avoid close contact with people who have a cough or a fever, and to write to your legislators.

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