Varicella vaccine now required for new Tenn. college students

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Incoming students who will begin full-time classes at Tennessee universities and colleges starting this summer and beyond will be required to show proof of having the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine or proof of immunity to the disease.

This policy is part of a new state law that applies to incoming new full-time students, including those in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs, said a recent release from East Tennessee State University.

“It is critical that students pay careful attention to this new law and begin taking steps now to meet this requirement well before the start of classes,” said Elizabeth Simpson, clinical director of ETSU Student/University Health Services. “Our clinic staff members are available to help students, and we encourage them to contact us with any questions they have or to schedule a titer or vaccination.”

The law is applicable only to incoming students. Students born before Jan. 1, 1980, along with those who were enrolled prior to the 2011 summer semester, will be exempt.

New students must receive two doses of the varicella vaccination, which are given at least 28 days apart. ETSU officials said they will allow students to register for full-time courses for one semester if they have had only the first of the two vaccinations. The second vaccination, however, must be administered before they can register for the following semester.

Incoming students who believe they had chicken pox in the past must present medical documentation to their college or university from a medical practice or health department. Those unable to show proof or who are not sure if they have had the disease can have a titer, or blood test, which would indicate immunity.

Titers can be performed at any Tennessee Health Department; costs may vary. ETSU Student/University Health Services also offers the titer for $22.

Most health departments also offer varicella vaccinations. Students should contact their health department to discuss fees and the availability of the vaccine.

A temporary waiver of the vaccine requirement will be given to anyone who has religious concerns or to women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding. New ETSU students are asked to contact ETSU Student Health to arrange for the waiver. Students taking only online and distance-learning courses will also be exempt but must sign a waiver each semester.

The ETSU waiver forms are available at www.etsu.edu/reg/.

In addition to varicella, incoming university or college students must show proof of having at least the first of two doses of the mumps measles, and rubella vaccine. As with the case of the varicella vaccine, the second MMR dose must be administered before the student can register for the following semester.

Incoming ETSU students must also sign a waiver stating they understand the potential consequences of hepatitis B and meningitis. Though vaccines for these two diseases are not mandatory, they are recommended and available at ETSU for a fee.

ETSU offers more information by calling 423-439-4225 or visiting www.etsu.edu/nursing/shserv/about/Immun_Requirements.aspx.