Hillsdale College’s vaccination policies are more lenient than those of many colleges nationwide, but they closely resemble those of other Midwestern colleges.
The college requires students to submit immunization records proving they have received appropriate doses of the Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, Hepatitis B, Meningococcal, Measles-Mumps-Rubella, and Polio vaccines before registering for classes. Additionally, students must provide a record of a negative Tuberculin test and report either a history of Varicella (Chicken Pox) or that they have been vaccinated for the disease. Students can, however, decline inoculations “for personal, religious, or philosophical reasons,” and instead submit an immunization waiver.
It is uncommon for a college to grant vaccination exemptions for non-medical reasons, but Director of Health Services Brock Lutz explained that the college’s policies are in line with Michigan state law.
“Every state has different vaccination policies,” he said. “In Michigan, anyone can opt out ‘for religious or philosophical reasons’ and we adhere to that policy as well.”
While all states permit citizens to decline vaccines for medical reasons, and most allow inoculation rejection for religious reasons, Michigan is one of fewer than 20 states that allows citizens to refuse immunizations for personal reasons, according to the website of the Immunization Action Coalition.
Hillsdale College’s immunization policy closely matches those of other midwestern colleges, from small, private, liberal arts colleges to large, public colleges. Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, like Michigan, also allow citizens to claim vaccination exemptions for personal reasons.
Hope, Calvin, Grove City, Beloit and Carleton colleges as well as Ohio Wesleyan and Grand Valley universities grant non-medical exemptions that allow unvaccinated students to attend. Carleton College’s form states that it will grant exemptions for “conscientious or religious purposes,” and Beloit College states that it will allow exemptions if they are necessary “due to religion, personal conviction or medical contraindications.” The other colleges do not specify what category of non-medical exemptions they accept.
Ohio Wesleyan University and Calvin College require students to meet with a member of the schools’ medical personnel before approving their requests for exemptions. The other colleges, including Hillsdale College, simply require students to submit a vaccination waiver stating the reason(s) for which they refuse immunizations.
Lutz estimates that 25 to 30 students submit vaccination waivers each year. By signing the waiver, students consent to being “excluded from the college for an extended amount of time or until the health risk subsides” in the event of a disease outbreak.
Like that of other colleges, Hillsdale’s vaccination waiver informs students who forego immunizations that they are assuming a higher risk to their health than those who accept vaccinations, and obliges them to care for themselves accordingly.
Elizabeth Palmer, a senior majoring in biology, recently presented her research on vaccines. She said she believes it’s important for students to know that their personal immunization choices have campus-wide ramifications, and explained that herd immunity, a population’s collective resistance to a disease that results when a sufficient portion of its members is inoculated, is weakened as more students elect not to vaccinate.
“Oftentimes people don’t realize that their choice not to be vaccinated does affect the health of others,” Palmer said. “In order for herd immunity to work, a certain percentage of the population must be vaccinated.”
The young, old, and those with weak immune systems suffer most acutely as herd immunity declines, she explained.
“I personally see it as our job, as healthy people, to protect the helpless by vaccinating ourselves,” Palmer said.