Update 2/9/15: This story has been updated to reflect additional information about the implementation of the immunization policy.
With the start of 2015, the University of California began rolling out the first phase of its new immunization policy, which will eventually standardize a roster of vaccines required for admission to all UC campuses.
The policy — which, as of the new calendar year, will involve only a formal recommendation — will supplement UC Berkeley’s current requirement that all incoming students be fully immunized against hepatitis B. Additional vaccines, which will become mandatory criteria for UC admission in the fall of 2017, include MMR, or measles, mumps and rubella; chickenpox; meningitis; and TDaP, or tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
In 2015, incoming students will receive notification of the impending requirements. By 2016, students must add their vaccination records to an online database, but this rule won’t be enforced until the the following year. Students still in violation by fall of 2017 will have a block put on their registration.
The university’s recommendations come after a wave of measles cases in California, including some in Alameda County. But according to UC spokesperson Brooke Converse, the decision to move forward with a more stringent immunization policy is more a matter of logistics. As part of the plan, she said in an email, students will be able to directly upload their immunization records into an electronic health database — standardized across all campuses.
“It has always been a good public health and preventive medicine practice to immunize and protect against infectious diseases,” Converse said. “However, in the past, the cost of vaccines and the time (and) cost for student health staff to obtain and verify this information has been a barrier to implementing system wide requirements.”
Kim LaPean, the communications manager for University Health Services’ Tang Center, said it will be hard to know what the compliance verification process will look like on each campus until 2016. But because the extra vaccines will have been recommended to students by their doctors prior to their admission to the UC system, she said, most students will likely coordinate vaccination plans with their families, rather than “mass lines of people coming in to Tang.”
“We want to keep students healthy, and this is a good step,” she said. “This is actually not groundbreaking.”
LaPean said she was certain that an opt-out procedure for students with religious or medical exemptions would be in place.
John Swartzberg, a professor emeritus with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said he felt that students who chose to opt out of two vaccines — MMR and chickenpox — should be required to provide physicians’ notes saying they had been informed of the importance of immunization but refused to vaccinate.
“The university needs to be more proactive,” he said, “in not just saying that we recommend these vaccines, but that if you want to come to Cal, you need to be vaccinated or have a physician’s statement.”