Princeton begins meningitis B vaccinations

70 to 80% of students expected to receive vaccine

December 9, 2013

Princeton University has started its mass vaccination of students to try to stop an outbreak of type B meningitis.

Some 6,000 students, approximately 70 to 80 percent of the student body, began vaccinations Monday against meningitis, which has sickened eight, officials say.

The vaccine for the B strain of the meningococcal bacteria is not yet licensed for general use in the United States, though it has been allowed in Canada, Australia and Europe. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use at Princeton. This stain of the bacteria isn’t covered by the vaccines most U.S. college student already receive., NBC News reported.

In an unrelated outbreak of meningitis B, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, at least four students were infected last month and the feet of an 18-year-old freshman were amputated due to complications, family reports said.

The vaccinations were recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention. The vaccine is being made available to all undergraduates, as well as graduate students who live in dorms and employees with certain medical conditions. Taking it is voluntary. Students will get two doses, the first this week and the second in February.

Princeton agreed to provide the shots after federal officials at the CDC requested special permission to import the vaccine. Bexsero has been submitted for consideration in the U.S. by its maker, Novartis, but is far from any decision.

Health official took the unusual step of requesting the unapproved vaccine because the Princeton outbreak started in march, but did not stop after the summer break, which should have interrupted the transmission of the disease.

Bacterial meningitis is a dangerous infection of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges. It is spread through respiratory droplets or secretions exchanged through close personal contact, which is why health officials in Santa Barbara have asked fraternities and sororities to shut down parties for now.

Princeton is paying the bill for the vaccine and will administer it in the same way it gives flu shots, said Dr. Thomas Clark of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who is overseeing the vaccine distribution.

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