Bustos Law Firm

New Vaccination Requirement for Higher Education

In Texas Law on January 9, 2012 at 11:29 AM


The beginning of a new year always brings with it the beginning of new laws. One law that will have an impact on many people in Texas starting in January 2012 was actually already in effect as of May 27, 2011. The reason this law is now the topic of discussion even though it has been technically effective for over seven months is because the practical effect of the law will arise at the beginning of the 2012 spring academic semester. Starting this semester, all students entering into an institution of higher education must receive a bacterial meningitis vaccine.

Originally, this law, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, only applied to entering students who planned to move into on-campus housing, but after the death of a Texas A&M student caused by bacterial meningitis, the 82nd legislature amended the original law. The first law was passed after Jamie Schanbaum, a student at the University of Texas, lost both of her feet and several fingers due to bacterial meningitis. The amended law, S.B. 1107,  is now known as the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act to honor the Texas A&M student who passed away in early 2011. Nicolis Williams’s death was significant not only because it was caused by bacterial meningitis, but also because he lived off campus. The original law only applied to those students living on campus, meaning it had no effect for students like Williams who lived off campus.

Under the new law, all entering students at an institution of higher education in Texas are required to receive a vaccine against bacterial meningitis within five years of attending the institution, and no later than ten days prior to attending classes. The exception to this blanket requirement applies to students who are only enrolled in online courses, or some other form of distance education courses, and also to those students who are thirty years of age or older. The law applies to transferring students as well as students who are continuing their higher education after a fall or spring semester off.

While this new law will help protect Texas’s young population from bacterial meningitis, not everyone is a supporter. One specific concern that has been raised by critics is that every incoming student will have to incur a cost in order to comply with this requirement. Vaccinations are not cheap, and the meningitis vaccine is no exception.

Additionally, the vaccination debate has heated considerably since the February 2011 Supreme Court decision Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, and this new law only adds fuel to that fire. In Bruesewitz, the Supreme Court decided that the parents of a child who was allegedly harmed by a vaccine could not bring suit against the vaccine manufacturer under state law, and could only raise complaints about the vaccine’s design within the no-fault compensation program that was created by the 1986 act that was at issue. This decision greatly insulates vaccine manufacturers from future possible tort liability.

The protection accorded to vaccine manufacturers mixed with the government mandate for individuals to undergo vaccination in order to attend an institution of higher education has given many Texans cause for concern. Whether these concerns will ever succeed in enacting change remains to be seen. For now, the law requires vaccinations for students of higher education in Texas, and the reason behind this law is to protect students and hopefully save some lives.

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