Health Politics

Incoming freshmen college students would be required to get immunizations and vaccines before starting classes under a bill passed Thursday by a Kentucky House committee.

Some universities require immunizations for incoming freshmen, but only if the student will live in a dorm. The measure would require all students, even those living off campus, to be immunized.

Patty Swiney, former president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians, said the bill is designed to target meningitis, and students who attended private school or were home schooled.

Students attending public school have to be immunized before Kindergarten, 6th grade and the 11th grade for not only meningitis, but the measles, mumps and other illnesses.

“They live, eat and study in close quarters,” said Swiney, who’s also the medical director for the Bourbon County Health Department. “Many are on their own for the first time, they don’t recognize they’re contagious until it’s been spread to classmates. And the delay of treatment causes prolonged and costlier recovery.”

House Bill 147 does, however, contain a religious exemption as well as an exception for people who are not able to be immunized because of medical reasons, like allergies.

The religious exemption, Swiney believes, has been used by people as a loophole to not get their shots. She’s working this year to eliminate the exemption. She wants to instead institute an educational program people would have to go through before they could be exempted.

“It’s just an education matter,” she said. “It’s a fear, that we’ve listened to people that don’t have the background and who don’t have the knowledge about the immunization.”

The bill will go to the House as early as Friday, and then on to the Senate.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.