Making the Case for Meningitis Vaccination
Dec 17, 2013

Last month there was a great deal of concern regarding several meningitis outbreaks on college campuses.  The first to really gain attention were the seven cases at Princeton University.  While it is typical for meningitis to strike college students, these cases were a bit unusual and concerning because they were caused by a strain of meningitis bacteria that is not currently included in the U.S. approved meningococcal vaccine.
meningitisimageAlthough the current vaccine prevents against four types of meningococcal disease — A, C W135 and Y — it does not protect against the B strain which was the strain identified in each of these seven Princeton cases.   The CDC recommends that children receive a meningitis vaccine at 11 or 12 years old, with a booster at 16 to 18.  In many states, colleges now require a meningitis vaccine before student can attend classes.  However, in regards to the Princeton outbreak, students who were vaccinated were still not protected in this outbreak since this particular strain was not among those covered.
Therefore, in order to contain the spread of disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to seek special approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide a vaccine that could offer the necessary protection.  Although this particular vaccine is currently being administered in Europe, Australia and Canada, it has not yet been approved for general use in the U.S.
Despite some people who may have been hesitant about a vaccine not currently approved in the U.S., the FDA agreed to grant this special request.  And the response has been extremely positive.  The Washington Post reported that more than 90 percent of the eligible students and staff received the serogroup B meningococcal  vaccine over the past week, which translates to nearly 5,300 shots administered to undergraduates, graduates living in dorms and employees with certain health conditions.
The CDC is now considering similar actions to address concerns raised after four UC Santa Barbara students fell ill with the B strain last month.  Three of the four students have already recovered, however the fourth student, freshman lacrosse player Aaron Loy, remains in the hospital after having both his feet amputated in late November.  Since then he has had additional surgeries to treat his wounds and continues in a battle for his life.
On Friday, the CDC explained that officials are “working under the assumption that the vaccine will be needed at UCSB” and there appears to be an ongoing discussion that the students at UCSB may have access to the unlicensed vaccine when they return to school after winter break.    According to reports in the Santa Barbara Independent, a CDC spokesperson explained that there were several factors to consider before determining whether the vaccine is warranted.  First scientists will have to determine if the serogroup B vaccine will work against the particular microbe detected in the four students there.  To determine this, CDC investigators will test Santa Barbara samples and compare their response to that of strains tested during clinical trials of the vaccine.  They will also analyze the time between cases, define the target population who may need the vaccine, ensure delivery logistics and formally request permission from the FDA.
In the meantime, CDC officials have been warning all students to seek medical attention if they begin to experience symptoms, to include high fever, severe headache, rash, vomiting and nausea.  And in the weeks prior to winter break, there have been over 1,200 doses of a meningococcal antibiotic administered to UCSB students.
In the video below, a college student reaches out to his peers to explain why it’s important to get a meningococcal vaccine.  In the end he directs students to learn more about the meningococcal vaccine at The Vaccine Education Center here.
For more information about risk factors, transmission, symptoms, diagnosis and prevention of meningococcal disease, please visit the CDC here.  And please share the following stories of meningococcal disease so that people will ensure their loved ones are up-to-date on this important vaccine.

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