Meningitis Vaccine Used in Europe and Australia Can Be Used for Princeton Students at Risk

With a meningitis outbreak at Princeton University, officials have approved the limited use of a vaccine that is given in Europe and Australia. Dr. Thomas Clark, the acting head of the CDC Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Disease Branch, told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the vaccine is not licensed in the United States and would only be available for Princeton students that are at risk.

The vaccine has been through phase two trials, so there have been advanced studies in the United States on it, Clark said.

The current meningitis vaccine in the United States does not protect against the type of meningitis that is being diagnosed at Princeton, Clark said.

There were 500 cases of meningitis last year and the disease occurs in all age groups. Ninety-eight percent of cases are sporadic, but outbreaks have occurred at universities and colleges, Clark said.

“Overall, adolescents and young adults are at increased risk for meningitis, especially college freshman living in dorms. It’s the nature of their close interactions, it’s the fact that they all come together in the beginning of the school year, that really can sustain transmission when a strain like this is introduced and start and sustain an outbreak,” Clark said.

Clark said that Group B outbreaks, the type seen at Princeton, seem to occur with weeks and months in between cases, so it is hard to know when the outbreak will end. Three cases can trigger an outbreak and the way to stop the outbreak is to vaccinate and figure out when additional cases may occur so they can be prevented, he said.

The new vaccine has been tested on about 8,000 people and is licensed in Australia and Europe, Clark said. He added that the side effects have been local reactions, pain, swelling and redness at the injection site.

“I think the vaccine is very safe and we have worked for a long time to understand how well it would perform in the disease that we see in the United States so we are very comfortable to recommend this vaccine,” Clark said.

Clark stressed that the use of the vaccine is limited. “It just applies to those at risk in the Princeton outbreak, so it’s just for the situation right now. It is not licensed and won’t be recommended broadly in the United States without license-ship,” he explained.