President Borst publishes Op-Ed on disease awareness

College of Idaho President Charlotte Borst recently wrote an Op-Ed piece on behalf of the Idaho Immunization Coalition. Dr. Borst, whose academic background is in the history of science and medicine, advocates for the importance of protecting Idaho’s college campus communities through immunization and education. Specifically, she points to the importance of educating students about the dangers of Type B meningitis, a potentially deadly disease that impacts many campuses across the United States. Dr. Borst's Op-Ed was published by several media outlets across the state, including the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello and the Idaho Falls Post Register.

Idaho needs to add Type B meningitis information to its requirement for all incoming College students

It is late summer here on The College of Idaho campus and, like many Idaho colleges and universities, our facilities team is readying the residence halls for move-in day.  This momentous day is followed by our signature “first-year wilderness experience” in which the entire class will go to McCall.   As C of I president, I lead our team in planning for the academic year, and I will even join the first-year students in McCall.  All of these events emphasize our belief that education is accomplished through community.

But as a college president, I understand that successful higher-ed leadership these days expands beyond planning for academics, sports and other programs. I must also work to protect our community by ensuring that we have strong emergency response plans to protect our students’ physical and emotional well-being.  These threats include not only the violent confrontations that make headline news, but also the unfortunately more common infectious diseases that threaten our campus populations.  As an historian of medicine, I share the confidence that modern science has alleviated the burden of many diseases through immunization and modern drugs.  But these results were achieved through education and the understanding that everyone must play a role in mitigating danger.  In other words, college leaders like me must think about a community response.

Meningitis and its deadliest strain, Type B, is one of the recent and very deadly health threats facing colleges. Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation around the brain and spinal cord that spreads through kissing, sharing water bottles, and other close contact. The disease preys primarily on college-aged students and others living in confined areas like dormitories. Type B is particularly deadly—within a few hours, a victim can become very ill, with symptoms that could result in the loss of limbs or even life itself.  

While there are immunizations for Type B meningitis, it is NOT covered through basic immunization practices.  While local health departments and the CDC have made information on new Type B vaccines available to the public, many states—including Idaho—have not required their colleges to provide this education.  After an outbreak of Meningitis B at both UC Santa Barbara and Santa Clara University, the state of California took a positive step for students by adding Type B meningitis vaccination information to the state’s meningitis education requirement for all incoming college students.  Our state would benefit greatly by requiring similar education by all institutions of higher learning.

At The College of Idaho, we have already started to act in the name of our community’s well-being. We recently adopted a policy requiring all incoming freshman to be vaccinated against many diseases before students attend classes. We are also proactively educating our parents about Type B meningitis and the available vaccine, and we are hosting a vaccine day on campus for students who have not yet received the Meningitis B vaccine.  Taking proactive steps now to educate our students and parents about this disease and preventative vaccinations will only help to protect all of our communities in the future.

Charlotte G. Borst, Ph.D.
The College of Idaho