Meningitis Vaccine Clinic Starts Monday at UCSB

Some Students Skeptical About the Need

Thursday, February 20, 2014
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The University of California system is picking up the tab for more than 18,000 unlicensed meningitis vaccines recently approved for specific UCSB students and faculty. All undergraduate students, graduate students who live in university-owned housing, and others with certain medical conditions are eligible to receive the free two-part vaccine, Bexsero, beginning Monday.

Four cases of meningitis serogroup B — a strain that is not protected by the vaccine currently approved in the United States — were diagnosed at UCSB last November. Three of the students have since recovered and returned to classes, but freshman and lacrosse player Aaron Loy had his feet amputated in November to stop the disease from spreading. Loy has been in recovery and teamed up with a prosthetist who specializes in treating young athletes, according to the Caring Bridge website his parents frequently update. Loy recently returned to the UCSB lacrosse field sidelines for the 2014 opening game — the Gauchos won 20-6 against USC — according to the Pacific Coast Shootout website.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the unlicensed vaccine for UCSB in late January, but it’s still unclear how many eligible students and faculty plan to show up to the two-week clinic. “The whole meningitis scare has died down,” said senior Jonathan Olive-Jones, explaining that heightened precautions — not sharing drinks at parties, for instance — have become more lax. “No one is really talking about it anymore. I saw the posters, but I thought they were old,” he added.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, the bacteria that causes meningitis spreads through lengthy or very close contact, and is much harder to catch than the flu, but causes many of the same symptoms including high fever, vomiting, or nausea.

CDC spokesperson Jason McDonald explained it’s too soon to tell if the spread of the disease has ended at UCSB since the last case was diagnosed in November. The only way to know for sure if students are still at risk will be if another case is identified. McDonald added that a person could be a carrier without displaying symptoms.

At Princeton University, eight students were struck with meningitis B between March and November of 2013. School officials speculated that transmission rates would subside during summer break, but additional cases appeared about a month after classes resumed last fall. The FDA approved the unlicensed Bexsero vaccine for undergraduate students and some faculty after the sixth student was diagnosed last fall. After that, two additional cases were diagnosed in November, which undoubtedly motivated students to show up to the Princeton clinic. In December, 5,382 of the 5,800 eligible individuals received the first shot, McDonald said. This week officials are distributing the second dose of Bexsero — which is licensed in Europe, Canada, and Australia. The strain in the Princeton cases is the same one that affected the four UCSB students, but experts say the cases are not connected.

At UCSB, officials sent a letter to the campus community informing students about the upcoming clinic, and posters appeared across campus. “At the outbreak, we were really freaked out,” said UCSB senior Christian Alonso, adding that the vaccines now seem “a little late in the game.” But he noted the university has made considerable effort to inform students.

UCSB freshman Caroline Ledna said she plans to get the shot because she’s on a sports team and in a sorority, plus her mom persuaded her. “You’re better safe than sorry,” she reasoned. But she said opinions among her peers seem to be a mixed bag.

“Everyone is a little ‘meningitis-ed’ out. Now it’s kind of a dull understanding,” Alonso said. “I would have 100 percent gotten it during the outbreak, because it was an immediate danger to my health. Right now it seems like most of it has passed,” Alonso said, adding that students rushed to wait in long lines to receive preventative antibiotics in November. “I think it should be still taken seriously. Everyone should probably get it to be on the safe side.”

NPR recently published a story about a man who had all of his toes and nine fingers amputated after being diagnosed with meningitis B just weeks before he graduated from University of Kansas in 2004. In 2010, Ohio University student Andrea Robinson unexpectedly died from meningitis B, after eight people were diagnosed with the bacterial disease in Athens between 2008 and 2010, according to The Athens NewsM.

The UCSB clinic will be held at the RecCen and open until March 7; the second dose will be distributed in the spring.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

CDC and UCSB have done a poor job of educating the students about the risk. 

Apparently Mary Ferris and Debbie Fleming gave a briefing in which Ferris mentions the Ohio University menB outbreak, which persisted over 3 academic years, sickened 13 & led to the death of an 18 year old freshman. This really needs to be out there more, so everyone knows what's at stake. Thirteen cases over 3 years, so many months between cases. And a fatality in the third year of the outbreak. The news reports at the time did not recognize that this was a continued prolonged outbreak; they only mention that Andrea Robinson was the third case in that particular academic year.

Also, Ferris is now quoting the CDC believes the risk of another meningitis B case at UCSB is 50%, which is the risk Amanda Cohn told me privately on December 11:

Link to the audio from Mary Ferris and Debbie Fleming's presentation at the briefing: 

Here is a link to the study regarding the Ohio University outbreak:

cplete (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 12:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

cplete (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 12:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I urge all students and those eligible to receive the Meningitis B vaccine to take advantage of this unique opportunity. As a parent who lost her 20 year old college son to meningococcal disease (although it wasn't the B strain), I know how quickly this disease can overtake your body and destroy it. Unless medically contraindicated, all students should be vaccinated with the B vaccine, and if they haven't received the vaccine covering the other 4 serogroups, they should receive that also. Visit the National Meningitis Association for more information. My husband and I will never get over the loss of our son; my younger son will never get over the loss of his brother. A vaccine, had we known about it, could have prevented our loss.

NMAtweets (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 3:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Dear Dr. Ferris,

I was disturbed to read the recent article in the Santa Barbara Independent which seems to indicate that much of the student body is unaware of the urgency of receiving the meningitis B vaccine:

I reviewed with interest the posters UCSB has produced. I was dismayed at the utter lack of education regarding the question of  "Why get the vaccine now, since there haven't been any cases since November?" The only reason given is that "the CDC recommends..."

Why does the CDC recommend?

• Meningitis B disease is swift and often deadly, sometimes killing within hours of symptom onset. Even with the best medical care, 10-15% die and 20% of survivors suffer permanent damage.

•Months can elapse between cases during meningitis B outbreaks, which can persist over years.

•18 year old freshman Andrea Robinson in fact did die of meningitis B in the 3rd year of an outbreak at Ohio University which sickened an additional 12 students. 

•At Princeton University, there was a 3 month lull followed by 2 more cases.

• The ST-32 strain of MenB identified at UCSB is the same strain that caused an outbreak in Oregon that lasted many years in the 1990's and continues to cause Oregon to have double the rate of meningitis as compared to the rest of the U.S. even today.

• CDC estimates the risk of more cases at the UCSB campus to be 50%.

I heard some of the recent briefing you gave along with Debbie Fleming, in which you discuss the Ohio University outbreak, and you also quote the CDC's 50% estimate for more cases at UCSB. So I know you are aware of at least some of the compelling reasons behind CDC's recommendation.

It seems to me that you have kept these compelling reasons to yourself, only recently speaking about them. Hard as I try, I can't find evidence that you have disseminated this information in written mass communications to the UCSB community. 

Students and their families cannot make an informed decision about vaccination without knowing what's at stake. Failure on the part of the University, Health Department, and CDC to achieve high levels of vaccination at UCSB could lead to a resurgence of cases, and the next one could be fatal. 

I urge you to make sure that all the undergraduates and their families receive a real answer to the question of "why vaccinate?"


Cristina Lete, MD

cplete (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 10:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

. The Meningitis Foundation of America offers extensive information regarding diagnosis, immunization, recovery and the after effects of meningitis. MFA survives primarily by donations. For the past 16 years, we have assisted people through support groups, resources and advocacy in efforts to help those affected with meningitis overcome and those around them understand the journey ahead. We promote prevention and safety measure in at risk communities and help explain the short term, long term effects and recovery treatments of meningitis to the media and public at large. Meningitis is a dangerous & often times fatal infection that can lead to serious life-long physical problems and even death. We are here to provide emotional support to those who need it; please feel free to reach out to us at
Caroline L. Petrie
National Secretary
Meningitis Foundation of America, Inc.
World Meningitis Day 24 April

MUSAorg (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2014 at 1:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In the past 5 years there have been five outbreaks on university or college campuses caused by the B strain, according to the CDC's Manisha Patel, MD.

On Wednesday, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices announced formation of a new meningitis outbreak workgroup, which will bring together federal vaccine experts, state public and college health officials, university administrators, and insurance industry representatives. The group is tasked with reviewing recent epidemiology data of meningococcal disease and outbreaks, considering options for updating the current meningococcal outbreak guidelines, and developing guidance for the use of meningococcal vaccines, both licensed and unlicensed in an outbreak.

"These outbreaks clearly happen fast, and we do have to have a more sustained solution to this."

cplete (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2014 at 7:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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