September 10, 2012, Middle Tennessee State University freshman, Jacob Nunley, died at age 18 of bacterial meningitis. A meningococcal vaccination was not required, so Nunley did not receive it. As a result, his death is spurring a new legislative movement in Tennessee.
When passed, the Jacob Nunley Act will require “immunization against meningococcal disease for incoming students at any public institution of higher learning in the state prior to the student's enrollment and specifies that the present law meningococcal vaccine waiver requirements would only apply to private institutions of higher learning in the state” (Tennessee General Assembly).
Thus far, the bill has passed in the Senate and the Education Committee, and is due to be heard March 19 by the Government Ops Committee. If passed into law, as it appears it will be, the new legislation will take effect July 1, 2013, and proof of immunization must be presented in accordance with the Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule as dictated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Until now, Tennessee schools were required only to collect a waiver from students, but the Jacob Nunley Act will change the way Tennessee public colleges and universities handle required and incoming documents.
The only exemptions to the Jacob Nunley Act are as follows, as described by the Tennessee General Assembly:
- A Tennessee licensed physician signs a written statement certifying that the student meets the criteria for contraindication set forth in the manufacturer's vaccine package insert or published by the advisory committee on immunization practices of the centers for disease control and prevention.
- A Tennessee licensed physician signs a written statement certifying that the student meets the criteria for contraindication published by the centers for disease control or the advisory committee on immunization practices.
- A Tennessee licensed physician signs a written statement certifying that in the best professional judgment of the physician, based upon the student's medical condition and history, the risk of harm from the vaccine outweighs the potential benefit.
- The student, or parent/guardian, provides to the admissions officer a signed, written statement, affirmed under penalties of perjury, that vaccination conflicts with the religious tenets and practices of the student, or, in the case of a minor, the parent or guardian.
Tennessee is not the only state with recently enacted, or pending meningitis legislation. Each time new legislation is put into effect, schools have to educate students and themselves on the legislation, why it is important to comply, and how to handle that compliance. In this case, Tennessee will have to manage an influx of new, required paperwork, in addition to educating students on the importance of vaccinating themselves against bacterial meningitis.
According to the CDC, meningococcal disease:
- Is caused by bacteria and is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis (infection around the brain and spinal cord) in children.
- Is spread through the exchange of nose and throat droplets, such as when coughing, sneezing, or kissing.
- Displays symptoms including sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck, often with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and confusion.
- Can cause blood infections.
- Kills one in ten people who get it.
- Can lead to loss of arms or legs, deafness, nervous system problems, developmental disabilities, seizures, or strokes in survivors.