As the fall semester begins, some universities and colleges in the United States are offering meningitis B vaccines in response to cases cropping up recently in campuses.

From vaccine clinics that students have to attend to simply ensuring shots are available to those who are interested. In fact, universities and colleges are enforcing preventive measures in a number of ways. Providence College in Rhode Island, for instance, held vaccine clinics on two weekends in August, requiring freshmen to attend but allowing students to opt-out of getting the shots. The college is particularly serious about its efforts because two of its students got sick with meningitis last winter.

"We wanted to immunize students as soon as possible," said Kristine Goodwin, student affairs vice president at Providence, because there remains the risk that some of the college's students could still be carrying the meningitis bug.

There are two new vaccines now that can protect against strains from the serogroup B of the Neisseria meningitidis: Bexsero and Trumenba. Older vaccines have been routinely administered to adolescents over the last 10 years but they don't protect against meningitis B strains. All other serogroups, however, are covered. There weren't meningitis B vaccines to begin with anyway until 2014.

Glaxosmithkline's Bexsero and Pfizer's Trumenba were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on young adults and adolescents as clinical studies have found that the vaccines triggered the desired immune responses against meningitis B. However, because the disease is so rare, it is unclear if Bexsero and Trumenba can reduce infections better than placebo.

Back in June, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the meningitis B vaccines be given to offer short-term protection for those between 16 and 23 years old. Routine vaccination was not advised because the CDC didn't have enough data to confirm that the vaccines would be safe and effective in the long-term, but as the agency gathers more data, it is possible that it may change its recommendation in the future.

An inflammation of brain and spinal cord membranes, meningitis, is acquired when a person is exposed to the Neisseria meningitidis by coming into contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected individual. Once an infection sets in, typical symptoms include fevers, stiff necks and headaches. Meningitis can be fatal and those who survive the disease are left with life-long disabilities.

Photo: Bart Everson | Flickr

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