Every case of meningococcal disease is a tragedy, but when a case happens on a college campus, it causes even greater anxiety.
Many of these cases can be prevented by having students vaccinated against meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y on schedule at 11-12 with a booster at age 16. But this won’t stop cases of serogroup B.
Four outbreaks and at least 10 isolated cases of serogroup B meningococcal disease have occurred on college campuses since 2013. To get a sense of the true impact of those numbers, here are some first-hand accounts from administrators whose schools were affected:
Mary Ferris, MD, MA, MSEd, Student Health Director at the University of California, Santa Barbara:
(Four cases of serogroup B meningococcal disease occurred in one month at the University of California, Santa Barbara in late 2013. These cases were connected another that occurred on campus seven months earlier.)
“Word travels fast on a college campus. By the morning after the first case we had a line of students waiting for us to open. They wanted a vaccine. Telling people they were not at risk didn’t stop the panic.”
“National news outlets camped out on the campus. There was widespread fear and even panic among students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding city. The local school district initially prohibited our student teachers from their sites, and parents drove in to remove their children from the campus. Our campus child care center asked student volunteers to stay away. Parents demanded that we close the campus, and others did not want their students to come home for Thanksgiving holidays. Our local public health department and CDC had to establish special phone lines to handle the large volume of incoming distress calls.”
“Even ONE CASE in a college setting has major repercussions on the institution, and most colleges will not have the resources to pay for vaccines when the outbreaks occur.”
Peter Johnsen, MD, Director of Medical Services at Princeton University:
(Nine cases of serogroup B meningococcal disease occurred at or were associated with an outbreak at Princeton University from March 2013 through March 2014.)
“Our outbreak was sustained over a longer time than usual. The CDC could only provide us with one example of another university that had experienced a sustained outbreak. That outbreak went on for nearly three years. Other university outbreaks were associated with attack rates on the order of 15 to 25 cases per 100,000. Princeton experienced a rate greater than 130 per 100,000. This was comparable to the attack rate in the meningitis belt in Africa.”
David A. Ruth, PhD, dean of students at Drexel University:
(The last case associated with the Princeton outbreak was in a student from nearby Drexel University. The student had attended a party with Princeton undergraduates.)
“The questions and concerns came from all over the campus. From our faculty and our staff, and in this case, police officers as well, who weren’t sure if they were at risk because they were near the student who was sick. We heard from students, parents, media and the community. So trying to manage the emotions, manage the grief, manage the chaos, manage the sadness, while also managing students, managing parents, managing faculty and staff, managing the media—was— was continually challenging. One of the scariest things was the waiting. We expected another case because of what happened at Princeton. We called a meeting of the sorority that evening to let them know one of their best friends had just died, but also that there’s this cause of concern for meningitis. So as you can imagine, there’s panic and grief in this room full of women who lost their best friend and now are scared to death about their own lives as well.”
All universities where an outbreak occurred held emergency clinics to administer serogroup B vaccines to the campus community to help stop the outbreaks, but the best way to prevent these cases is to make sure all students are #BVaccinated before they step on campus. A routine recommendation for serogroup B vaccine would make that easier.
Even without a recommendation, every student can and should put asking an healthcare provider about the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine on their pre-college checklist:
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.