A new push to guard against meningitis outbreaks in Iowa is included in a budget bill awaiting Governor Terry Branstad’s review.
Bacterial meningitis is serious and can be deadly. It causes tissue surrounding the brain and the spinal cord to swell. Representative Rob Taylor of West Des Moines is all too familiar with it.
“My oldest daughter who is in dental school now actually had it when she was 18 days old, nearly died. That’s why part of the reason why it’s very close to my heart,” Taylor says. “I think it’s very important that we have junior high, high school and adults vaccinated specifically against meningitis, so that we’re not exposing unneeded risk to our smallest — our toddlers and our infants.”
Iowa is one of 11 states that do not require teenagers to be vaccinated.
“We’re ripe for an outbreak,” Taylor says.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends kids get the meningitis vaccine by the age of 12 and then get a booster shot when they’re 16.
“You get a shot at the 7th grade level and the 12th grade level, preparing our kids to go off and live in dorms or go into the military and it has a zero percent death rate,” Taylor says.
If Governor Branstad signs off on the proposal, 7th graders and 12th graders will have to show they’ve gotten the meningitis vaccine, or they won’t be able to enroll in school. Meningitis is highly contagious.
“And very devastating to the community that gets it because if there’s one that has, it can spread rapidly,” Taylor says.
About 4000 cases of meningitis are reported in the U.S. each year. At the end of March a student at St. Ambrose University was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. Nearly 80 percent of American teenagers get a first dose of the meningitis vaccine. In Iowa, only 64 percent get it. That’s 11-and-a-half percent lower than Minnesota and about 13 percent lower than Illinois.
South Dakota’s governor just signed a bill requiring 7th and 12th graders to show they’ve been vaccinated before they may enroll in school.
Some Republican legislators in Iowa objected to the proposal, arguing parents should be able to opt out of getting their children vaccinated. Parents in Iowa are allowed to file for an exemption to vaccinations due to religious objections or medical reasons.