Sexual Orientation Mediates Your Access to Some Public Health Resources This Year


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Meningitis can occur in both viral and bacterial forms.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) remains the authority on immunizations throughout the state. These are the folks who send available vaccines to NEIU when they’re requested by Student Health Services. According to the IDPH website in response to the question “Who Should Get Immunized?” the IDPH answers, “everyone.”

Before my first year of college at Iowa State University, I was required to be vaccinated for meningitis. I was thankful for it after tragedy struck while I was visiting friends back home. At eighteen years of age, my friend passed away from complications due to undiagnosed meningitis.

Meningitis occurs in several forms, both viral and bacterial. Roughly 600 viral cases of meningitis are reported annually in Illinois, many of these affecting the stomach or small intestine. Though antibiotics do not fight viral infections, the majority of individuals who are vaccinated are thereafter equipped with the tools to mount an immune response when the virus attempts to infect their system.

Policies for distribution of the vaccines for viral meningitis by the Illinois Department of Public require that students seek meningitis vaccinations through independent health-care providers, as implied by the lack of available vaccines to NEIU students.

The meningitis shot can be administered at NEIU student health center under certain circumstances. The meningitis vaccine can only be distributed to males who have sex with other males. This is part of a city-wide campaign targeting the Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM) community based on their behavioral and immunological risk factors.

Individuals must belong to this category, males that have sex with males, to be entitled to a meningitis vaccine. The IDPH will send the meningitis vaccines to the university upon the request of the student health department when an individual identifies themselves as a part of this cohort, and who wishes to be vaccinated.

Some may jump to the conclusion that this is an effort to single out homosexual men, but information regarding the contraction of meningitis may speak to the rationale behind what seems like some rather odd factors mediating the distribution of meningitis vaccines by the state.

So why are men who have sex with men considered to be the highest risk individuals for meningitis?

Though meningitis can be transmitted through the transfer of viral particles through mucus membranes, the form of transmission for the disease is sharing saliva. Behavioral risk factors associated with transmission, in combination with a higher risk of having lowered immunity due to HIV or other immuno-compromising viral infections, seem to be the main criterion for this year’s delegation of meningitis vaccines by the Illinois Department of health. In general, stress, age and behavior are major factors to consider when evaluating the potential for contraction of meningitis in individuals.

Though questions regarding availability of public health resources in Illinois for post-secondary institutions are begging to be asked, the biggest question for now is perhaps: is anybody really listening?

University settings with dormitories or student housing have required residents to be vaccinated for meningitis in the past, so why is it that students at NEIU (who are about to be offered student housing) are not entitled to a vaccine for meningitis unless they are a man who has sex with other men?

My understanding is that perhaps there is a limited number of vaccines being produced that are intended for post-secondary institutions or that perhaps these public health issues are being overlooked in lieu of other very pressing issues in budget allocation. With Springfield in gridlock and objectives of career politicians and large development entities being centered on campaign funding and profits, it’s difficult to avoid pessimism on the public health front.

The Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules last updated the vaccine requirements in the state of Illinois for post-secondary institutions at the most recent date of….2012.

The big picture is something we must take initiative to seek ourselves, and the answers are often much less fun than celebrity gossip (if you are into that). We must independently seek the meningitis vaccine this year (if we are not currently vaccinated and are actively engaged in a college setting).