So what are we talking about when we talk about national policy discussions?
FDA Approval and CDC Recommendations
Once a vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a group of medical and public health experts, makes recommendations on how the vaccine should be used in the U.S. Once the recommendations are approved by the Director of the CDC and published, they become part of the official immunization schedule. You can learn more about the ACIP and the recommendation process here.
The CDC currently recommends routine vaccination with meningococcal quadrivalent vaccines that protect against four major serogroups (A, C, W and Y) for children at 11-12 years old with a booster dose at age 16.
Following recent FDA approval of two vaccines that protect against a fifth major serogroup (B), ACIP voted to recommend serogroup B vaccination for a small group of individuals who are at increased risk for contracting this infection. This includes people with a rare immune deficiency or problems with their spleens, scientists who work with meningococcal bacteria in labs and those who are in the middle of an outbreak setting, like college students on a campus where meningitis cases are occurring. ACIP will be meeting again in June to discuss broadening these recommendations to provide protection to more people.
(Note: Even while broader recommendations are pending, healthcare professionals can provide this vaccination. NMA urges parents to talk to their teen’s healthcare provider about meningitis B prevention.)
CDC’s recommendations are guidelines, not requirements. Some states have policies to help increase meningococcal vaccination rates by requiring either education (parents and/or students must be informed about meningococcal disease and its prevention) or actual vaccination for school entry. These policies are almost always based on the CDC recommendations. States with one or more vaccination mandates tend to have the highest meningococcal vaccination rates. In some states without a vaccination requirement, colleges and universities have their own requirements for enrollment.
Why is a CDC recommendation so important?
Because vaccination is the best protection we have and NMA supports the broadest possible access to all vaccines. A recommendation from the CDC makes this possible by setting vaccine schedules, prompting healthcare providers to recommend vaccines, and potentially reducing financial barriers.
Coverage rates for the A, C, W and Y meningococcal vaccines, which were first recommended routinely in 2005, have increased every year from 2006 to 2013. Nearly 80 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have received at least one dose. While we still have more to do to increase uptake of the booster dose (only 30 percent of teens who received the first dose also received the booster in 2013), it has only been recommended since 2011.
However, these vaccines alone are not enough because they do not protect against serogroup B, which currently causes about one-third of all U.S. cases and the majority of meningococcal disease in U.S. adolescents.
NMA is working to educate about the availability and importance of serogroup B vaccines, but we believe that adding them to the routine recommendations is the best way to make sure that all adolescents are protected. It’s the right thing to do.
This post is part of the #BVaccinated series based on NMA’s report, Beyond the Science: Putting a Face on Meningococcal Disease. As national policy regarding serogroup B meningococcal vaccination is discussed and implemented, NMA urges all those involved to consider these perspectives. We believe that routinely vaccinating our children against this disease is the right thing to do.