Princeton to start mass meningitis B vaccinations

GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press
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Vaccine injection

Patient receiving a vaccine injection. (AP photo)

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) — Princeton University was set Monday to start the vaccination of nearly 6,000 students to try to stop an outbreak of type B meningitis.

The Ivy League school in New Jersey is using a vaccine not yet approved for general use in the U.S.

Seven students and one student visitor have been stricken by potentially life-threatening type B meningococcal disease since March. None of the cases has been fatal.

The mass vaccination was scheduled to start at noon Monday at a campus center.

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.

With the most recent case reported in November, the CDC said there was a strong likelihood of more cases despite steps taken by the university, including encouraging students not to share cups. The agency says it’s important as many students as possible get vaccinated to help halt the outbreak. The disease can be spread through kissing, coughing or lengthy contact.

Students will get two doses, the first this week and the second in February.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of a vaccine, Bexsero, that has been approved for use in Canada, Europe and Australia but is not yet licensed in the U.S.

Under New Jersey law, all students who live in dorms are required to have a meningitis vaccine, but it does not prevent the B strain, which responds differently to vaccines from other strains. The strain is the most common in Europe and accounted for one-third of the meningitis cases reported in the U.S. last year by the CDC. Princeton’s is the first outbreak of the B strain worldwide this year.

Made by Switzerland-based Novartis, Bexsero is the only vaccine designed to ward off the strain. It is in the approval pipeline in the United States. The CDC said it does not consider it experimental.

More than 8,000 people were safely vaccinated as part of studies that resulted in its approval in the other nations where it is now licensed, the CDC said. Since the vaccine does not include live bacteria, it cannot give someone meningococcal disease, or meningitis.

The illness can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It’s fairly rare in the United States, but those who get it develop symptoms quickly and can die in a couple of days. Survivors can suffer mental disabilities, hearing loss and paralysis.

 

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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