University Health Services will require fall 2020 students to show proof of measles vaccination

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Photo Credit: Raquel Higine | Daily Texan Staff

The University will now require incoming students to show proof of measles immunity, according to the University Health Services website. 
 
This requirement will only apply to students entering fall 2020 and thereafter, said Sherry Bell, UHS consumer education and outreach coordinator. 
 
“The proposal for the requirement, which was approved in fall 2019, was made to protect the health of students and reduce the impact of illness on their academics,” Bell said. “Communication about the requirement began in January.”
 
The City of Austin confirmed a case of measles on Jan. 8 and a case of rubella on Jan. 16, according to a press release. Both vaccine-preventable diseases had not been seen in Austin since 1999.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease characterized by symptoms similar to rubella, including coughing, sneezing and fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rubella is a viral illness that is less contagious than measles but can cause pregnancy complications, said Anna Lassmann, a public information specialist for Austin Public Health. 

Lassmann said those not immune to measles have a 9 out of 10 chance of getting the disease because measles has an attack rate of 90%, whereas rubella has an attack rate of 10%–30%. 

“The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is the best way to prevent rubella, along with measles and mumps,” Lassmann said. “Since rubella is transmitted through droplets from an infected person when they cough, talk or sneeze … it is a good practice to wash your hands often and avoid touching your face to prevent the spread of germs.”

Dr. Terrance Hines, executive director and chief medical officer for University Health Services, said the University requires international students to show proof of rubella and measles vaccinations. Domestic students are not required to obtain the rubella vaccination because the U.S. eradicated the disease in 2004, Hines said.

“(Rubella is) pretty uncommon,” Lassmann said. “The U.S. sees less than 10 cases per year. In Texas, we’ve only had three cases since 2006, not including this one.”

Jeff Saniuk, nurse practitioner for UT Health Austin, said in an email that the CDC recommends children receive one dose of the MMR vaccine at 12–15 months of age and a second dose at 4–6 years of age, but people can be vaccinated at any age. He said receiving two doses of the vaccine is about 97% effective at preventing measles and rubella.

“Adults who are uncertain as to whether they’ve had the MMR vaccine may be tested using an MMR titer,” Saniuk said in the email. “The titer is a blood test that checks to see if an individual is immune to measles, mumps and rubella.”

Public health junior Steven Anguiano said being vaccinated for rubella creates herd immunity, which lowers the frequency of rubella being spread and helps protect people who are not vaccinated. However, he said domestic students should not be required to show proof of a rubella vaccination because most students are vaccinated during early childhood. 

“If (people are) coming on campus and never vaccinated, students would have already been affected by the virus,” Anguiano said. “It would do nothing to treat the effects, just prevent the spread.”