COLUMBUS, Ohio – With the signature from Gov. John Kasich, a new law will require a bacterial meningitis vaccine for Ohio school children. The new requirements will be effective for the 2016-17 school year.
Senate Bill 121 was sponsored by Sen. Cliff Hite (1-Findlay). It specifies that the meningococcal vaccine be added to list of vaccines already required by the Ohio Department of Health, for children attending Ohio schools.
“This law protects Ohio’s children and families from preventable deaths,” said Hite. “No parent or family member should ever have to suffer the loss of a child to this terrible disease. This law has the potential to save lives. While we already regulate vaccination for diseases like polio, measles, and mumps, we did not have any regulation regarding the meningitis vaccine.”
In its most serious form, bacterial meningitis can cause inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, a blood infection, or both. The disease can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms like headache, fever and nausea can be similar to those of more common conditions like the flu. Meningitis becomes serious very quickly, and can kill within 48 hours. Up to 15 percent of those who get meningitis will die, and of those who survive, one in five will have lasting effects like brain damage, hearing loss, or limb amputation.
People of any age can get meningitis, but those most at risk include very young children, adolescents and, especially, those living in close quarters like college dormitories. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the meningococcal vaccine for everyone aged 11 to 18 years old.
Senate Bill 121 directs the Ohio Department of Health to determine the age required for the meningococcal vaccine for students. The bill allows for exemptions should parents or caregivers choose to opt out of the vaccine.
An adolescent requirement will help prepare many students for life beyond school, when they may live in settings such as college campus or military bases.
Current state law requires students in on-campus housing at public universities to tell administrators whether they have been vaccinated for meningitis. A few state universities, including Ohio University and Ohio State University, require incoming students who plan to live on campus to have a meningitis vaccine. There is currently no legal mandate in Ohio that college students be vaccinated. 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.
For Sen. Hite, helping ensure Ohio children are immunized against bacterial meningitis is a personal mission that came about following the death of his five-year-old niece, Tess. Last year, Sen. Hite was successful in establishing a new law that created Meningitis Awareness Day each year on March 9.