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Senate panel mandates meningitis vaccine for 7th graders

Wading into the sometimes controversial topic of child immunizations, the Senate’s Budget Committee inserted language into the state budget that requires students entering seventh grade be vaccinated against meningitis.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who introduced the budget amendment, said a recent meningitis diagnois of a student at Florida State University highlighted the need to protect young people against the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. The state already mandates other vaccinations before students enter seventh grade, but there is an opt-out clause if parents object for religious or personal reasons.

The board in charge of Florida's public universities already requires incoming college students to obtain the meningococcal vaccine, following the lead of the University of South Florida, which established the policy after a student died of bacterial meningitis in 2007.

People ages 16 through 21 years have the highest rates of meningococcal disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It suggests vaccinations for children between the ages of 11 and 12, and a booster shot at age 16.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Ft. Lauderdale, was the only member of the committee to vote against the vaccination amendment. She said the budget was not the place for such a proposal, which should have been vetted through the normal committee process.

“I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad policy, but I believe it is a policy decision that should not necessarily appear in the budget,” Bogdanoff said.

Although the vaccination language is now in the Senate’s version of the budget, the House has already passed its budget without discussing the issue.