IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa in the last month has spent nearly $270,000 providing free measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations to almost 5,000 students.
To date this semester, UI has reported 152 cases of mumps — 78 percent of the 196 lab-confirmed cases in Johnson County and 63 percent of the 241 cases reported statewide since July 12.
When the tally topped 100 in November, the UI and Johnson County Public Health officials reached out to students and urged those under age 25 to get a third MMR dose. The UI announced multiple clinics on campus to disseminate the free vaccine to students who met designated criteria.
Officials made no recommendation that UI students 25 and older, faculty, and staff receive a third MMR dose. Those under 25 living in close quarters like dormitories, apartments, fraternities and sororities face the highest risk. The financial impact of offering free shots to the wider community came into question, according to emails obtained by The Gazette.
“I would like to be part of the discussion about how this might roll out to faculty and staff,” a human resources representative wrote to Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin on Nov. 2. “From our past experience, there are a number of issues to be considered and addressed, of which the financial piece is just one.”
UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett said the disease does not appear to be widespread among those out of college or 25 and older, and specialists with the Centers for Disease Control and the Iowa and Johnson County public health departments issued the recommendations just for students under 25.
“The decision to offer the free mumps vaccine to students under 25 was based solely upon the need to offer the vaccine to those most at risk for the disease,” Bassett said. “(The Iowa Department of Public Health) wrote a specific order saying who to immunize, and we followed it.
“The cost played no role,” she said.
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To date, the university has spent about $266,600 on vaccines and about $2,500 on related supplies, according to Bassett. Those funds are coming from a reserve the institution keeps for “circumstances such as this,” she said.
About 4,900 students have been vaccinated through the recent clinics, and Bassett said the UI campaign for free third MMR vaccines will end Dec. 23. New incoming and transfer students under age 25 will get the chance to receive a free MMR vaccination from UI Student Health and Wellness during orientation in mid-December and mid-January.
Students age 25 and over also can get vaccinated at UI Student Health, but the cost will be billed to their insurance companies. The third booster shot is necessary, officials said, because the immunity from the mumps vaccines most students received before starting kindergarten has waned over the years.
Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus that can cause fever and painful, swollen glands. The illness can force students to miss class and suffer serious long-term complications, including deafness and testicular swelling, which can result in sterility.
“Both of those complications have already occurred in students,” Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said in an earlier news release. “Mumps can also — rarely — cause inflammation of the brain and pancreatic problems. Bottom line: this is not a disease you want to get.”