The federal government has taken the unusual step of giving Princeton University special permission to inoculate nearly 6,000 students with a meningitis vaccine that has yet to receive U.S. approval. Now, parents of students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) — where at least four students have contracted a similar meningitis strain, including one who had to have his foot amputated as a result — are asking why their children aren’t getting the same treatment.
“I have to wonder what in the world they are waiting for in getting this vaccine available to the student body,” said Nancy Gorman, a UCSB parent, in an interview with NBC News. “I really don’t care to be playing Russian roulette with my child’s well-being.”
At least eight Princeton students and four UCSB students have been infected with similar versions of bacterial meningitis strain B — the only strain that doesn’t have a government-approved vaccine available in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is allowing Princeton to use a drug that’s already received Australian, European, and Canadian approval to conduct a mass vaccination campaign on campus. But Dr. Thomas Clark of the CDC says that it’s too soon to deploy the vaccine at UCSB while offering assurances that it will be made available if necessary.
“[Y]ou want to use the vaccine in the most judicious way you can to prevent cases,” he told NBC News. “I think it’s unknown whether it will be needed, but everything is set up should it be needed.”
In the meantime, UCSB officials have canceled social campus events and are advising students to take precautions against sharing germs.
Studies have shown that mandating student vaccinations for meningitis — or even simply educating students about the shot’s effectiveness — are among the most effective ways of preventing outbreaks on college campuses. Meningitis kills 14 percent of infected patients and leaves one in five survivors with lasting physical and mental damage. Infection rates are highest among high school and college students.