As students across the state are starting their college careers, freshmen and other new students need to get something else along with their books and backpacks before they head to campus, and it could save their life.
New students and other students living in campus housing for the first time at a Tennessee Board of Regents school will have to be vaccinated for meningitis before they can move in. Those are the public universities and community colleges that aren't in the University of Tennessee system.
"Meningitis is not that common, but when you do have it, it can be deadly. And we want to protect all our students," said Dr. Eric Clark, medical director at Middle Tennessee State University.
Three thousand students are signed up for campus housing at MTSU, and 1,600 had not yet taken the shot when they registered.
That number is now down to 400, and the campus health center was packed all day Friday with students trying to get the shot.
Freshman audio production major Gabriel Wood was one of the students yet to be vaccinated.
"I think any safety measure I can possibly get that provides safety and security from getting sick is a step I need to take for my own safety," Wood said.
He just found Friday afternoon from nurses when he went to take the shot, that an MTSU student, Jacob Nunnely, died last year after contracting meningitis.
"It doesn't make me that nervous," Wood said. "There are thousands of people in dorms here, and for one person to die, I think the likelihood of me contracting meningitis is slim to none."
His mother, Desiree Mondesire-Wood, is also not worried, since state education officials acted promptly after Nunnely's sudden death.
"That's a really good sign," Mondesire-Wood said. "That's really good, they reacted so well."
The vaccine is not cheap. It costs $95 a dose, but campus health officials said no student will be turned away.
If they don't have the cash to pay up front, they can charge it to their student account.
"Financially, these immunizations can be tough, but this one protects the students. And when you have something that can be life-threatening, like meningitis, we really want to get them protected," Clark said.
A quarter of freshmen students at UT-Knoxville didn't have the shot, officials said, and at Austin Peay, 60 to 70 students had not received the vaccination. That number is now down to 30.
Wood, a New Jersey native, is just looking forward to beginning his first year of college without worrying about getting sick.
"I think the new guidelines in Tennessee might be the beginning of a new rule to be implemented across the country," Wood said.
MTSU will have extended hours at its Student Health Center on Saturday. Students can get their vaccination from noon to 6 p.m.
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