TMA Supports Changes to Bacterial Meningitis Vaccine Law

Testimony by the Texas Medical Association and Texas Pediatric Society

Senate Higher Education
Senate Bill 62, by Sen. Jane Nelson
March 27, 2013

Good day, Chair Seliger and members of the committee. I’m Donald Murphey, MD, representing the Texas Medical Association (TMA) and the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS), which includes more than 47,000 physicians and medical students. I’m a pediatrician with a specialty in infectious diseases. I’m the Medical Director of Infectious Disease at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth.  I’m here today to testify in support of the Committee Substitute Senate Bill 62, sponsored by Senator Nelson.

First, I want to thank Senator Nelson for her leadership and many contributions to public health in immunization policy and programming in our state. Texas has made great strides over the last 10 to15 years in promoting vaccination for vaccine-preventable diseases and protecting the public’s health.

Meningococcal disease, or bacterial meningitis, is not a common disease. But it’s a disease that leads to significant disability and even death of adolescents and young adults. Fortunately, we can now vaccinate young children, adolescents, and young adults to prevent bacterial meningitis. We know it is important to target the vaccine for those most at risk. Doctors see bacterial meningitis as a threat to our student population, particularly those living in a closed quarters, whether in a community or on-campus housing.  Communicable disease does not discriminate based on geography or race.

Senate Bill 1107 passed by the 82nd Texas Legislature created numerous challenges for the tens of thousands of young adults seeking admission to a higher education institution. Colleges have also faced challenges in implementing this legislation. We want students vaccinated for bacterial meningitis. We don’t want this vaccination requirement to become a barrier for a student enrolling in school.

Though we prefer a stronger process that doesn’t promote exemptions, we believe CSSB62 provides a reasonable compromise for students seeking an exemption. We feel strongly the Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) exemption process, which is already established, should be the process followed. The exemption process authorized under CSSB62 should only be used among college students for this vaccination.  We appreciate that Senator Nelson has added a requirement in CSSB62 for education on bacterial meningitis. We are glad that new student enrolling for college will be making informed decisions about their vaccination. That probably was not the case in 2011 with 17,000 college exemptions filed. We know the DSHS portal will ensure students are made aware of dangers.

Physicians support CSSB62 because it narrows the targeted population to those with the greatest risk of disease. It also will help ameliorate the need to sidestep the law by seeking conscientious exemptions. Though TMA and TPS did not initiate the original legislation, we have worked with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and DSHS over the interim to find a solution.
I’d like to close by thanking Chair Seliger and Senator Nelson for your interest in seeking a workable solution to this issue. We believe CSSB 62 balances our interest in protecting the public’s health while continuing to promote academic opportunities for Texas’ students. We look forward to working with the committee, the Higher Education Coordinating Board, and DSHS for the implementation of CSSB 62.

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