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Gail Bailey: Prevent the horror of losing your college student

Staff WriterMay 25, 2019

I appreciated the State Journal’s front-page article May 18, “ No campus requirements: Most of System doesn’t know if its students are vulnerable to measles.”

My beautiful child was 20 years old when he died of a vaccine-preventable disease as a UW-Madison student in the University of Wisconsin System. The horror and pain was unspeakable. That was 17 years ago.

Today, when I take my precious 7-year-old grandchild to his elementary school each morning, I see the many crossing guards looking out for the safety of the children walking to school. I see the many bus drivers being so careful, too, as they drive the buses away from the school. A local police officer is at the school each day watching out for our children’s safety.

Recently, I saw the school principal of my grandson’s school hold my grandson’s hand as he crossed the street. His teachers watch over him each day.

We do all these things as a society to protect our children when they are young. But it seems like when they go off to college, we as a society drop the ball on their health and safety. How is that?

UW System is highly regarded in this country, yet it cannot get to 95% vaccination on its campuses, which is required for herd immunity against measles and other disease, as the State Journal article mentioned. I say, “Where there is a will, there is a way” to attain this. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment, but our children are worth it.

I cannot quantify in this column the grief, pain, loss and nightmares when your child dies. But parents, please trust me: You never want to experience it.

What you may want to experience is a higher level of safety for your children as they go off to college. And that will require becoming active with UW System as one of its stakeholders to ensure vaccination levels are at 95% to increase protection for all the students and staff.

My 6-foot 4-inch, 240-pound son died within 16 hours of contracting bacterial meningitis while he was a student at UW Madison in 2002. Meningitis and measles are very dangerous diseases.

Please, parents, use your voices to let the officials at UW System know it is a priority for the students to be better protected against measles and meningitis. Time is of the essence, because these diseases can and will do unspeakable things to students and staff.

Meningitis B reared its ugly head on the UW-Madison campus in October 2016, when three students became seriously ill. This constituted a breakout. Only 4% of students were vaccinated against meningitis B. Luckily, no one died, but they could have died quickly like Eddy did.

If we need a state statute or more discussion, as the State Journal article stated, let’s begin now to protect our students and children. Their very lives are at stake.

My son’s birthday was Friday. He would be 37 if a vaccine-preventable disease had not taken his life at age 20. Both he and I will work to protect the students in UW System, but we need help from other parents, too. Please become proactive to ensure the safety of college students in Wisconsin.

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