CDC urges freshmen to get vaccine

The health-care industry is expecting another vaccine shortage, but unlike flu season, Yale University Health Services does not anticipate this one to have a significant impact.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement last week recommending all college freshmen receive an injection of Menactra, a new meningococcal meningitis vaccination, but demand is almost certain to exceed supply. The manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, will not be producing at maximum capacity for a few years, and only 5 million doses are expected to be available this year.

Menactra is effective for more than eight years and prevents the transmission of the bacteria from one person to another. Vaccine shortages could occur during the next three years because the factory that will produce Menactra will not open until 2007 or 2008, said Phil Hosbach, vice president of new products and immunization for the drug company.

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and surrounding the brain, caused by viral or bacterial infection. Meningococcal meningitis affects about 3,000 individuals a year in the United States and kills around 300. College freshmen living in dormitories have the highest rate of the disease in the country — 5.1 of every 100,000 are infected, according to the CDC.

“I think it’s an exceedingly rare condition, that when it occurs can have very serious and rapidly progressive complications including death,” UHS Medical Director Ravi Durvasula said. “[Vaccination] isn’t an intervention that does great good for large numbers of people. The state of Connecticut has mandated this for a while, targeted college students, and though this group may have greater risk, the overall risk it is not the kind of thing one should panic over. Yale has not had a case documented ever.”

In 2001, the CDC’s Active Bacterial Core Surveillance Team called upon the pharmaceutical industry to create a vaccine for meningococcal meningitis to combat the increased risk for disease in the adolescent population.

“The vaccine only covers three-fourths of the circulation strain of the bacteria,” Dr. Elizabeth Becker, a family practicioner in New Haven, said. “There are many other forms of the disease that are not vaccine preventable, so being able to recognize the symptoms is vital.”

The FDA approved Menactra based on clinical trials involving more than 7,500 adolescents and adults that showed a single shot of the vaccine was powerful enough to protect an individual from bacterial meningitis for four years.

According to the FDA, Sanofi Pasteur will work closely with the CDC to ensure the production will meet the increased needs resulting from the new immunization recommendation.

Despite the CDC’s recommendations, there has been no federal action to mandate vaccinations for all college freshmen.

“It reflects the fact that not everyone is on board about the real threat it poses to college health,” Durvasula said. “It’s a point of debate, and we adopt a policy here. But it is certainly a point of debate whether this will be viewed as a high-risk threat to our student body.”

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