Law, policy leave room for vaccine exemptions

Minnesota law requires college students to be vaccinated, but there are ways around the rule.

Law, policy leave room for vaccine exemptions

Jessie Bekker

Tyler DePaulis, a Century College student, would rather let his body heal itself naturally from a case of measles than have it injected with a vaccine.

DePaulis’ father chose 18 years ago not to have his son vaccinated, and the decision stuck.

A case of measles was confirmed at the University of Minnesota last month, generating a statewide discussion about the virus and vaccinations. Though Minnesota law requires all college and university students to be vaccinated for the disease, there are a few exceptions to the regulation.

University students who have specific medical issues and religious affiliations or prefer a natural approach to disease prevention are exempt from that law, said Nicholas Kelley, a research associate at the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Unless they’re exempt, out-of-state University students must prove that they received their measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, along with a diphtheria and tetanus shot, before their second semester.

Dave Golden, director of public health and communications at Boynton Health Service, said the law requires the same of all grade schools in the state, so the University does not ask in-state students to prove that they were vaccinated, which means University officials don’t know how many of its students aren’t vaccinated.

Despite the case last month, Kelley said he doesn’t think the University of Minnesota is at a significant risk of a measles outbreak.

He said large populations experience isolated cases of disease periodically, and it shouldn’t be concerning for people living in a place where a majority of the population is immunized — known as herd immunity.

Though the state requires the University to enroll students who haven’t been vaccinated, Golden said, there is no credibility to anti-vaccine campaigns.

Kelley said a lack of trust in science can lead to false rumors about immunizations, and they’re easily perpetuated through the use of social media.

“The evidence for why vaccines are so helpful is overwhelming,” he said.

Leida Voulgaropoulos, a biology, society and environment  senior and co-president of the University Public Health Association, said she wasn’t immediately concerned for her safety when she was notified of the measles case at the University because she’s immunized.

She said in response to the University’s measles case, the UPHA executive board is creating new educational programming — in the form of public health speakers and social media action — that’s geared toward teaching students about the importance of vaccination.

“Those who haven’t been vaccinated are still a vulnerable population,” Voulgaropoulos said. “It’s a social responsibility.”

State law doesn’t require University employees to be vaccinated, said Paul Allwood, University director for occupational health and safety.

Instead, the University decides the requirements for employee vaccinations on a case-by-case basis with the help of Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, he said.

For example, University physicians working with patients would need to have the MMR vaccination, but a math professor, who doesn’t work in a clinical setting, would not.

Though DePaulis hasn’t come into contact with a disease like measles, he said he worries for his safety when traveling.

He said that if an outbreak in Minnesota occurred, he would consider getting the vaccine.

“I’d have to weigh my decisions and talk to my doctor,” he said.