A proposed bill to the state Legislature would stick students in the arm and then poke them in their wallets.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, recently penned a bill requiring all University and state college students to be immunized against hepatitis B before they can enroll. But critics say although immunization is important, the proposed bill will be difficult to monitor and costly to students.
Hepatitis B is a blood-born pathogen that attacks the liver and is transmitted through exchange of body fluids, including many sexual activities. The vaccination series is estimated to cost more than $100 and is not covered in student services fees, said David Golden, Boynton Health Service’s director of public health, marketing and program development. Some insurance companies will cover the vaccination and some will not, Golden said.
The University already requires a vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella. But the cost for an additional vaccination might be difficult for University students to swallow.
“The chances are really good that the students would get hit with the bill,” Golden said. “This is another instance of weighing the benefits against the costs.”
Golden suggested hepatitis immunization could be gradually phased in.
“To suddenly require this for college students might be a little premature,” Golden said.
The purpose of the bill is to prevent contraction and the spread of the disease, Murphy said.
“Most students originally from Minnesota have been vaccinated for everything under the sun,” Murphy said. He added that the bill is directed toward international and out-of-state students who might not have been vaccinated.
Hepatitis B, unlike most sexually transmitted diseases, is completely preventable but not curable. Contraction can be prevented through a series of three vaccinations over a six- to nine-month period.
While most people who contract the disease experience symptoms such as jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain and nausea, others see no signs at all. In some cases, people become carriers and spread it without knowing it.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that hepatitis B costs Americans more than $700 million in medical costs and lost work hours.
Each year between 140,000 and 320,000 people contract hepatitis B nationwide. One in every 20 people will become infected sometime in their lives.
The CDC reports that the rate of infection has decreased since 1985. But since 1993, the rate of infection of hepatitis B is rising especially among sexually active heterosexuals, homosexual males and injection drug users.
Although many students rely on their parents’ insurance carriers, not all companies cover the immunization sequence.
“If I didn’t have insurance it might be a problem for me,” said Dustin Hammel, a College of Liberal Arts freshman, who added that he’d already had the immunization series.
But Murphy said the individual benefits outweigh the cost.
“Yeah you have to go to the doctor, but in the long run, if you get it, you can’t get rid of it,” Murphy said. “The related health care costs are astronomical,” he added.