DALLAS - Classes begin next week at most colleges and universities across Texas, yet thousands of new students have yet to get the meningitis vaccine now required by law.
Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky day for some aspiring college students in Dallas. The Dallas County Health Department waiting rooms were jammed after the clinic unexpectedly received 2,000 doses of the $10 meningitis vaccine.
But, when the low-cost shots are gone, students who can't afford the $150 full price will once again be in trouble.
"Then I would have to wait and save some money to get a hundred-and-something dollar vaccine," said Roneika Lockett, a new student enrolling at Cedar Valley College.
Lockett admitted if she had to pay full price for the vaccine, it would keep her out of college for a semester so she could save up money.
After a News 8 report on how the cost of the vaccine is negatively affecting college enrollment, the state provided News 8 with options to help students comply with the law.
To make sure students who want to enroll in college can, state officials pointed out a significant loophole. Students can "opt out" of taking the vaccine for reasons of conscience, an explanation is not required.
The request form is available online through the State Department of Health. Forms are mailed within a week of request. The only fee is for a notary.
As of Thursday, 124 students at El Centro College had already turned in paperwork under the "conscientious objection" category.
"As long as they still get the vaccine, the exemption works to get them enrolled, get them in college, on time," said Zach Thompson, the Dallas County Health Department director. "I think it's workable."
Thompson doesn't like the "opt-out" option, but admits it might be a temporary solution, given the current shortage of affordable vaccine.
Thompson worries the problem of getting college students vaccinated will be worse in the fall, when new student enrollment rises dramatically.
According to Texas estimates, 120,000 higher education students are not insured.
However, thousands of low-income high school juniors and seniors can get bargain-priced meningitis vaccines now. Qualifying students under the age of 18 are covered under the state's Vaccines for Children program.
"We think that's a good idea," Thompson said. "They can get the meningitis vaccine and that will cover them as they get ready to go to college."
The Texas Department of Health and Human Services will consider extending access to low-cost meningitis vaccine temporarily available under the "safety net" program after January 31.