PRINCETON, N.J. ― Princeton University has started its mass vaccination of students to try to stop an outbreak of type B meningitis.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meningitis expert Thomas Clark says that shortly after vaccinations began at noon Monday, scores of students were in line and some had received the dose.
The vaccine for the B strain of the meningococcal bacteria is not yet licensed for general use in the United States, though it has been allowed in Canada, Australia and Europe.
The Food and Drug Administration approved its use at Princeton.
Seven university students and one student visitor have been infected since March. None of the cases has been fatal.
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 says. 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.
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