Seventh graders in New York State would be required to be vaccinated for meningitis, a deadly disease spread by saliva droplets, and could be excluded from school if they were not, under a bill passed this week by the State Legislature.
Beginning in September 2016, the bill would require students entering seventh grade to have received the meningitis vaccine, with a booster shot to be given in the 12th grade. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends meningitis vaccination around that time, so many doctors have provided it.
Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther, a Democrat from Sullivan County who was the bill’s prime sponsor, said it had been passed after testimony from medical experts as well as from several people who had lost children to meningitis, or who had been afflicted with meningitis and suffered amputations as a result.
“It’s a disaster,” Ms. Gunther said of the disease. “The science tells us that we can do something.”
The bill was opposed by some people who believe that vaccination can cause autism — a belief discredited by scientific studies. But Ms. Gunther, who is a registered nurse, said that in any case, this particular vaccine would be administered long after the period when autism typically develops and is diagnosed. As with other mandated vaccines, parents can apply to their child’s school for a religious exemption from the requirement.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who can sign the bill into law, said that it was under review.
Among supporters of the bill was Patti Wukovits, whose daughter, Kimberly Coffey, died of meningitis in 2012 when she was 17, just before she was to go to her senior prom for East Islip High School on Long Island.
Ms. Wukovits described how easy it was to confuse meningitis with the flu and how quickly the disease progressed. She said her daughter was feeling achy and had a fever of 101. But overnight, she developed purple spots on one of her ankles, which then progressed to a rash all over her body. Ms. Wukovits took her to the emergency room. She died after being in the hospital for nine days and being declared brain-dead.
“If she had survived, she would have been a quadruple amputee,” Ms. Wukovits said. “She would have had a tough life.”
Ms. Coffey was buried in her prom dress, and her mother began a foundation, the Kimberly Coffey Foundation, to spread awareness of the disease.
Meningitis is an infection of the covering of the brain and the spinal cord, which can also cause blood infections. It can be spread through kissing, or drinking from the same cup. It can lead to death within a few hours, is fatal in one out of 10 cases and leaves one in seven survivors with a severe disability like amputation, paralysis or seizures.