GREENVILLE – Ohio lawmakers last summer added bacterial meningitis to the list of diseases against which Ohio’s schoolchildren must be immunized, and the specifications of that requirement have just been released by the Ohio Department of Health.
Public health officials urge parents to vaccinate their children now, even though the law will not take effect until the start of the next school year. Under Ohio law, parents may opt out of vaccinations for their children if they have religious or moral objections, or if a vaccination is not medically advisable for an individual child.
About 69 percent of young people in Ohio are vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, about 78 percent of children are vaccinated.
Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord that can be fatal within days of exposure, even in otherwise strong and healthy adolescents. The symptoms – which are commonly mistaken for a cold or flu – can make a sudden appearance and leave the victim dead within a day or two without treatment.
Survivors of the illness can have long-term complications, including brain damage, limb loss and hearing loss.
Some people can carry the bacteria without getting sick and spread the illness to others through saliva, sharing a drink or kissing. The vaccine has been recommended for several years for young people entering college.
“Meningitis can quickly strike young victims and result in multiple amputations or death within hours,” said Sen. Cliff Hite, the Findlay Republican who spearheaded the bill in the Ohio legislature. “Sadly, my family learned through tragedy that the best treatment for meningitis is often prevention.” Hite’s 5-year-old niece died from bacterial meningitis within hours of symptoms appearing.
The new requirement calls for a dose of the meningococcal vaccine known as MCV4 to be administered prior to entry to grade seven. A second dose must be administered prior to the senior year of high school unless the first dose was administered after age 16.
The other vaccine requirements for school children are as follows: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; hepatitis B; and varicella (chickenpox).
Current state law requires students in on-campus housing at public universities to report whether they have been vaccinated for meningitis. A few state universities, including Ohio University and Ohio State University, require incoming students living on campus to have a meningitis vaccine. There is no vaccination requirement for college students currently. In recent years, there have been several cases of meningitis at Ohio colleges, some fatal. Nationally, about 100 cases of meningitis occur on campuses each year.
At the Darke County Health Department, 300 Garst Ave., immunizations typically are given only on Tuesdays. Clinic hours are 8 to 10:30 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m.