The resurgence of mumps cases in Penn and throughout Pennsylvania has sparked a debate about vaccination regulations. While almost all Penn students respect their immunizations, Penn's policies do not require all students to be vaccinated.
On April 9, mumps was diagnosed in three undergraduate Penn students. None of the students are currently contagious or isolated. Penn students, faculty and staff were notified of the first mumps case by email on March 27th. At Temple University, over 140 mumps cases have been reported, with isolated cases at the University of Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.
Penn's policies grant some students an immunization exemption, said Giang Nguyen, executive director of the Student Health Service. Students may choose not to receive the vaccine if it puts their health at risk or if their religious or philosophical beliefs prohibit vaccination. He added, however, that students did not need to worry about the large number of unvaccinated classmates.
The compliance rate of the Penn community is about 99%, said Occupational Health Manager Benoit Dubé. Nguyen said those who are officially immunization free are classified as compliant and are therefore included in the compliance count of about 99%. However, he added that the percentage of those who qualify for an exemption is so low that it does not change the overall compliance rate.
If students had already been vaccinated and threatened in their lives, they could qualify for an exemption, Nguyen said. In general, the medical contraindication – when a vaccine threatens the health of a student – depends on each person's antecedents and is judged on a case-by-case basis.
"A signed statement indicating a specific medical contraindication emanating from a doctor, an osteopath, a nurse practitioner or a medical assistant is required to benefit from a medical condition. medical exemption ", says the SHS vaccination requirements document.
Students with religious or philosophical beliefs that prohibit their immunization may also apply for an exemption, but must submit a signed religious or philosophical objection statement form, in accordance with the SHS Immunization Requirements document.
Although the students could be exempted from vaccination requirements, Nguyen said that the online form for screening students and the risk of tuberculosis should always be submitted.
"From a public health perspective, we need to know if someone is at risk of TB, and that does not mean you have to get vaccinated," Nguyen said. "It's really a necessity to be able to identify people who need additional counseling on the likelihood of being TB patients themselves and being treated if they could have a latent infection."
The exemption policy is developed by the university administration in coordination with SHS and is a longstanding policy that has existed for decades, said Nguyen.
Although Mr. Nguyen said the compliance rate is high in Penn, there is still a risk of an outbreak because people with diseases need to be vaccinated. Nguyen explained that this is why the University often reminded students of the basic ways to avoid infection, such as washing hands frequently, using a hand sanitizer, and not sharing food, utensils and personal items like electronic cigarettes.
Currently, Penn is asking all students to show two doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine or evidence of immunity. But Nguyen said that there was no state-wide regulation for mumps vaccination in colleges.
Meningitis, a disease characterized by inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, is the only statewide regulation governing vaccination on university campuses.