As the nation faces a renewed threat from measles, UW System health directors plan to discuss systemwide policies that merely recommend student vaccinations but don’t require them.
The directors will discuss immunizations at a regularly scheduled meeting and focus on whether something can—or should—be done about the lack of requirements, said Julie Martindale, director of health services for UW-Whitewater.
Immunizations are not required for enrollment in UW System schools, but that doesn’t mean health directors aren’t pushing for them.
Other states require immunizations for college students.
Illinois law requires students enrolled at colleges and universities to submit proof of immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, rubella, mumps and meningitis. Students who do not show proof of immunizations are not allowed to enroll unless they have a medical or religious exemption.
Martindale cited similar laws in Indiana.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported last week that 11 of the 14 schools in the Big 10 require that students be immunized. UW-Madison, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University recommend but do not require immunization.
Martindale said she encourages students to get immunized for preventable illnesses such as the flu, measles and meningitis.
Measles was declared eradicated in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but as of May 10 this year, the CDC had reported 839 cases across the country, including in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
No cases of measles have been reported in Wisconsin so far this year, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Cases in nearby states, especially Illinois, home to many UW-Whitewater students, put Martindale on high alert.
She said she is preparing materials for students and families on how to get immunizations and prevent the spread of disease. She hopes to send the information via social media in the coming weeks.
State Rep. Deb Kolste, D-Janesville, co-authored a bill introduced last month that would eliminate personal vaccination waivers in Wisconsin public schools.
If the Legislature chooses to tighten rules on immunizations, that could spill over to the UW System, Martindale said, although she has not heard anything indicating the system is looking at changing its rules.
UW-Whitewater students are asked to submit proof of immunizations so the university can keep a database of who has been vaccinated, Martindale said.
The university’s health services department uses the database to reach out to students who are not vaccinated if an outbreak occurs. No other department has access to the database, Martindale said.
The health services department also uses the public state immunization registry to look for student records.
Rock County campus
This academic year was the first since the UW System linked its four-year and two-year campuses, joining UW-Whitewater with UW-Rock County and renaming the latter UW-Whitewater at Rock County.
The Rock County campus does not have a health services office, but Martindale hopes that could change in the future.
In the meantime, she said Rock County students are welcome to contact or visit the Whitewater health services office with questions or concerns.
If an outbreak occurred on the Rock County campus, the Whitewater health services department would be in charge of helping students and stemming the spread, Martindale said.
UW-Whitewater reported 18 cases of mumps in 2015. UW-Madison experienced an outbreak of meningitis B in 2016.
Both diseases are preventable, said Martindale, who was not the health director in 2015.
She has emphasized emergency preparedness at UW-Whitewater since she took over as health director and believes the university is prepared for any potential outbreaks.
This fall, UW-W will host an outbreak simulation, which will bring campus groups together in the Williams Center to practice vaccination administration and other tasks that are essential during an outbreak, Martindale said.
The health services department can provide information on immunizations, but it does not offer immunizations on site, Martindale said. Because the department does not accept health insurance, providing immunizations would be costly—more than $100 per shot—for students, she said.
Students can receive immunizations from any primary care physician, she said.