Health center pushes for meningitis type B vaccinations: case of potentially fatal disease at Rutgers raises concern

Rutgers University is notifying their students to get vaccinated for meningitis type B after a second student there has come down with symptoms. Lafayette’s health center is making a push to get students on campus vaccinated to prevent the disease from occurring at the college.

The deadline to sign up to get the meningitis B vaccination on campus is March 6. CVS Pharmacy personnel will be in Farinon College Center on March 13 to administer the shots to students. The vaccination is known as Trumenba and is provided by pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Two separate doses are needed to be immunized, Director of Health Services Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein said.

The informational campaign for the vaccination started a few weeks ago, Goldstein said, and wasn’t spurred by the Rutgers outbreak, although it “certainly raises [his] level of concern.” The Rutgers cases were at the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, about an hour away in New Jersey.

There are about 1,000 students already vaccinated from past immunization efforts and he said the health center hopes that around 200 students will sign up for this round.

Students are required to be vaccinated for meningitis type A, which is more common. This vaccination covers the “four historically serious serotypes,” or variations of the bacteria which cause meningitis. According to Goldstein, the serotype B emerged about four years ago.

The rare but severe bacterial illness has been appearing on relatively nearby campuses intermittently for years, Goldstein said. He learned of one such case at Bucknell University from November 2017, one at Colgate nearly a year ago, and two cases at Columbia University last month. Lafayette has never had a case of bacterial meningitis to Goldstein’s knowledge, he said.

Bacterial meningitis could potentially result in long-term damages or even death. Meningitis is “an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord,” and can be caused by viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections, according to the Mayo Clinic. Viral is the most common, but bacterial infection requires immediate treatment with antibiotics.

Symptoms of meningitis include a severe headache, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting and seizures, among others. The risk of “permanent neurological damage,” including hearing loss and brain damage, increases the longer the disease persists with no treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Goldstein said he will decide by May whether or not the vaccine will be mandated for incoming students, but he is leaning toward requiring it. He also said that it would not be mandated for current students to get the vaccination, as it would be too difficult logistically to require.

“The reason I’ve struggled with the decision regarding to make [the meningitis B immunization] a required vaccine is because the [CDC] advisory and immunization practice still considers it a category B, which is not one of the classic immunizations that should be required for pediatric immunization practice,” he said. “It’s still…a vaccine that’s based on individual decision making, to be used for individuals at high risk for getting meningococcal.”

Goldstein said that it’s unclear why the vaccine is not required by the CDC “when we know that on college campuses, all the outbreaks have been due to serotype B” in recent years.

A recent analysis from the CDC, reported by WebMd, shows that college students are at a higher risk for contracting meningitis type B. 

“Investigators from the [CDC] found that students who were aged 18 to 24 were 3.5 times more likely to contract meningitis B than their peers who were not in school,” the WebMd article reads.

The push for immunizations against meningitis B comes after a recent case of whooping cough (pertussis) on campus, which students are required to be vaccinated against. The case prompted a reexamination of immunization records, and students were notified if they needed a booster shot for any illnesses. This immunization effort on March 13 is only for meningitis B.

Goldstein said that certain waivers are granted to students who decline vaccinations due to religious reasons or fear of vaccines, after a conversation with them and their parents during which Goldstein will try to convince them to be immunized. Those waivers would apply to meningitis B if it were to become mandated, he said.

Additionally, since the CDC describes the meningitis B vaccine on their recommended schedule for childhood vaccinations as one that people “may” get “after speaking to a provider,” insurance companies are required to pay for the vaccination, Goldstein said. Thus, there will will be no cost to any student who wishes to obtain it, he added.

He added that the college has “no skin in the game financially” and would not profit off of or spend money on the vaccinations. Pfizer reached out to the college to use Trumenba, and although Pfizer profits from “more people being vaccinated,” Goldstein said he thinks that the vaccine is important to get due to its potentially devastating effects. The likelihood anyone would contract the disease, however, is very low.

About Kathryn Kelly

Kathryn Kelly '19 is the editor-in-chief of The Lafayette. She studies government & law and Classics.

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