Approximately 0.005% of GC students have medical or religious exemptions from mandatory vaccinations according to records obtained from the registrar’s office.
“They have two options,” registrar Kay Anderson said. “A medical professional can sign off and say that they either have had it or should not get it or they can sign a religious exemption.”
From 2016 to 2018, six students provided medical exemptions, and 106 provided religious exemptions. These numbers are the sum of those three years. In 2015 alone, four students had medical exemptions and 67 had religious exemptions.
According to the Fact Book, GC had 7,177 students in 2018 including joint-enrollment, transient, graduate and non-degree students. Using the 2016- 2018 data, the average number of medical exemptions per year is two and the average number of religious exemptions is 35. By those averages, the total number of immunization exemptions was
37, meaning in 2018, approximately 0.005% of students were unvaccinated by exemption.
“Should there be an outbreak on campus, anyone who does not have the vaccination will be asked to leave campus,” Anderson said.
If this should happen then whether the absences would be excused would be decided by the President’s Cabinet.
There are six measles outbreaks across the U.S. and a total of 626 cases reported as of April 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
22 states, including Georgia, have reported cases of the measles, but only five are experiencing outbreaks. The affected areas are Rockland County, New York state; New York City; Washington State; Butte County, California; New Jersey; and Michigan.
“These outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring,” according to the CDC’s website.
The University System of Georgia has immunization policies in place to lessen the chance of outbreaks on college campuses.
USG Board of Regents Policy 4.8.2 requires that students provide proof they are up to date on six vaccinations before they are allowed to attend GC: measles (two doses), mumps (two doses), rubella (one dose), varicella (two doses), tetanus/ diphtheria (one dose) and hepatitis B (three doses).
Students can receive exemptions from all these immunizations, Anderson said.
Student health services director Britt McRae said that if GC’s health clinic diagnosed a student with a spreadable disease such as measles, they would attempt to contain the infection by isolating the student or possibly sending them home. They would then inform the local health department to enlist an epidemiologist, McRae said.
An epidemiologist is “a person who studies or is an expert in the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution and possible control of diseases,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
McRae said that if GC had a widespread outbreak, student health services would usually “enlist experts from the Department of Public Health to help manage cases and follow their recommendations.”
Amber Erickson, director of epidemiology in the Georgia DPH North Central district, which includes Baldwin county, gave a statement on the procedure when there is an outbreak.
Erickson said that epidemiology programs across Georgia follow CDC guidelines and recommendations based on case findings and disease prevention requirements specific to the cause of an illness. Each investigation is unique, regardless of cause, and “requires a quick response by public health officials and our partners,” Erickson said.
“[In accordance with] state and national law and best practices, public health officials are the lead for these types of investigations,” Erickson said. “Who is involved, both within public health and our external partners [depends on] the disease and situation.”
Although unvaccinated students would be dismissed from campus until an outbreak was contained, there are basic procedures DPH advises them to follow until they are removed from the infected area.
“Measles spreads quickly in an unvaccinated population,” said Michael Hokanson, North Central DPH public information officer and risk communicator. “90% of unvaccinated people that come into contact with someone with measles will become infected.”
Hokanson said that while vaccination best prevents measles, “practicing basic germ protection can help reduce the chance of getting measles.”
In an area where there is an outbreak, unvaccinated individuals should avoid close contact with anyone showing signs of measles, wash hands properly and often and stay home if they feel ill.
If a person believes they have been exposed to measles or develops symptoms, they should contact their healthcare provider immediately and call ahead to inform that they suspect measles so the office can take necessary precautions to ensure no one else is exposed.
“Measles vaccine may prevent disease if given within three days after exposure,” Hokanson said. “Immune globulin may prevent or modify the disease and provide temporary protection if given within six days of exposure in persons who cannot have the vaccine.”
The student health center offers tetanus/diphtheria, Tdap and in influenza vaccinations, but the Baldwin County Health Department offers all immunizations required by GC policy as well as others that may protect students from spreadable diseases.
The tetanus/diphtheria shot, required every 10 years, is the immunization most often overlooked or forgotten, Anderson said.
If a student needs a tetanus/diphtheria shot, they can easily get it at BCHD.
“If a student has received vaccines in Georgia, we can pull their information from the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS) and see what vaccines the student has received and what needs to be updated,” Hokanson said.
Graphic by Angie Yones | Art Director